Andy Ross 2018-02-19
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"Brexit must mean leaving
the EU single market ..
Brexit does not best serve
the national interest."
Malcolm Rifkind


2018 February 19

The West Will Fall

Viktor Orbán

Immigration has cast dark clouds over Europe. The West has opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and Islamic expansion. Nations will cease to exist, the West will fall, and Europeans will not even notice that Europe has been overrun.

Christianity is our last hope. If hundreds of millions of young people are allowed to move north, there will be enormous pressure on Europe. In the big cities there will be Muslim majorities.

Hungary is the last bastion against the Islamization of Europe. My administration has prevented the Islamic world from flooding Hungary from the south. I pledged our solidarity with those European people and leaders who want to save their country and their Christian culture.

Defending Europe

Financial Times

MSC 2018: Germany and France called for Europe to stand on its own two feet militarily.

Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) is an EU attempt to forge closer defense ties: 25 member states have signed up to 17 projects ranging from improving military mobility to developing a new infantry fighting vehicle.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said 2016 was a wake-up call for Pesco and the European Defence Fund, which coordinates spending on defense research and military procurement: "We want to remain transatlantic, but at the same time become more European."

US secretary of defense Jim Mattis praised European moves to increase defense spending and applauded Germany for taking its military responsibilities more seriously: "You see a much more engaged Germany today than you and I could've guessed even five years ago."

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said EU efforts risk "weakening the transatlantic bond .. duplicating what NATO is already doing and .. discriminating against non-EU members of the NATO alliance" when "80% of NATO defense spending will come from non-EU allies" after Brexit.

AR I propose a new NATO mission: impose military control on immigration into Europe.

2018 February 18

The Kremlin Candidate

Paul Callan

The indictment announced Friday in the Mueller investigation told a compelling and detailed crime story. Russian attempts to sabotage the American presidential election were probably successful in their effort to influence the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

A Cognitive Elite

Niall Ferguson

America has systematically tried to put cosmopolitanism into practice. If cosmopolitanism works, America should not be showing the multiple social pathologies described by Charles Murray in his seminal book Coming Apart. Murray warns that a cognitive elite formed at America's most selective colleges has lost all touch with the mass of ordinary Americans.

Stop Brexit

Neil Kinnock

We should stop Brexit to save the National Health Service. Even contempt for experts cannot obscure the evidence that the Brexit vote has already damaged the NHS and will inflict future harm on it. We can either take the increasingly plain risks and costs of leaving the EU or have the stability, growth, and revenues vital for crucial public services like the NHS and social care.

Stop Brexit

Stephen Peel

We hear strident calls from those who want to close down debate and silence discussion over the disaster that Brexit appears to be. I will not be silenced and will do all I can to support groups such as Best for Britain who seek to engage people across the country and make the case for Britain to lead, not leave Europe. The Best for Britain campaign will inform and engage a broad electorate across Britain and seek to end the slow motion car crash that we are seeing right before our eyes.

On Liberty

Christopher Macleod

Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill is remembered as the author of On Liberty. He said there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of anyone except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others. He said individuals were the best judges of their own good.

The argument is utilitarian. His suggestion that liberal rights are suitable only for societies that have reached a certain level of development, as achieved after the Enlightenment in Europe, may strike us as blinkered. But it reflects the reality of the historical emergence of liberal societies.

Mill maintained that human beings had the ability to influence their own character. He viewed pleasures actively taken in the world as more valuable than those received passively. The higher intellectual and aesthetic pleasures were to be preferred over the lower animal pleasures.

Mill also worried about the growth of equality. Deference to the majority on political matters led to deference to the majority on questions of value, leading to mediocrity and the debasement of high ideals. With democracy came the danger of a descent into populism and cultural decline.

Nuclear weapons

Former commander of US nuclear forces General James Cartwright on nuclear weapons

German defense minister
Ursula von der Leyen

Janan Ganesh

If Brexit does its worst, and
Britain sags in relevance, those
who suspect George Soros of a
plot to overturn the referendum
will come to pine for the days
when global tycoons thought
this country worth

Works of Love
Søren Kierkegaard

"You shall love your
neighbor as yourself"
Jesus Christ

No one escapes this command.
If you come as close to a life of
self-love as is possible, your
neighbor is there too, as fatally
close to self-love as possible.
The only escape is to banish
your neighbor, out
of your life.

Rosie Rees
Rosie Rees
Yoga nude — how else?



The Heart of Conrad

Colm Tóibín

Joseph Conrad was much more than a novelist of adventure, a chronicler of the issues that haunted his time, or a writer who dramatized moral questions. For novelists who deal with isolation, solitude, hesitation, and the lone self, his strategies are instructive and his techniques fascinating. He is the great example to those who want to offer their characters a fully imagined solitude.

Joseph Conrad was born to Polish parents in the Ukraine in 1857. As a boy, he decided he wished to be a sailor. He joined the British merchant marine and got his master's certificate in 1886, the same year that he became a British subject.

Conrad had ended his career at sea by 1894. He published his first novel in 1895. For each book he wrote, Conrad found a new system of narration. Since he had set his novels in both East and West, in Malaya and London and South America and Africa, it is easy to see him as a global writer.

When he was asked why he didn't write in Polish, the great English novelist replied: "I value too much our beautiful Polish literature to introduce into it my worthless twaddle. But for Englishmen my capacities are just sufficient: they enable me to earn my living."

2018 February 17


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberg

France is again playing a leading role in Europe. This is a good thing: Neither Europe nor Germany can accept German dominance for long. What is happening is a correction.

For France, security policy and military engagement are a practical necessity. Under President Macron, defense spending will rise steadily in the coming years.

European Defense

Die Welt

Munich Security Conference: Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly, the defense ministers of Germany and France, kicked off the proceedings.

Von der Leyen said Europe should put more military weight on the scales. The European Defense Union shows the political will to work on a European army. Joint development programs are planned for drones, tanks, and fighter jets.

Parly said a robust European defense begins with efforts at home. France will devote 2% of GNP to defense by 2025. A comprehensive weapons modernization will include conventional and nuclear capabilities. A new aircraft carrier alone will cost at least €5 billion.

Von der Leyen presented an investment program of €130 billion for arms by 2030. But the the plan is not anchored in the new coalition agreement. At present defense remains at 1.24% of GDP.

Parly said Europe must develop a strategic culture with the aim of achieving a shared awareness of the situation, a shared analysis, and a shared action plan — a shared action doctrine.

2018 February 16


Tobias Buck

Germany is slowly but steadily taking on more responsibility in world affairs. Over the past decade, Berlin has abolished conscription, professionalized its armed forces, and raised defense spending. German soldiers are currently engaged in more than a dozen foreign missions.

The new German approach to defense and security is in part a response to a new political reality. At a time when the United States is showing more reluctance than ever to be the guarantor of European security, Berlin is under pressure to take on more of the burden.

The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine caught all NATO countries unprepared. In the years since reunification, the Bundeswehr had absorbed massive budget cuts and prepared for entirely different military scenarios and tasks. The notion of confronting Russia seemed fanciful.

Political leaders support a stronger Bundeswehr in principle. But last week, the coalition agreement put defense policy far down its list of priorities. With the German economy set for continued expansion, the defense budget will still be less than 1.5% of GDP in 2022. The NATO target is 2%.


Sebastian Payne

The British idea of an Empire 2.0 after Brexit is wrong. Australia is seeking to become a republic.

Australians have flirted with the idea of becoming a republic before, and over half of voters support jettisoning the House of Windsor. Both Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull, the respective party leaders, are staunch republicans.

Prime minister Turnbull plans to reopen the question when the second Elizabethan age ends.


Leslie Young

A majority of Canadians believe that Canada should end its ties to the UK monarchy. But they divide on what comes after. The monarchy is written into the constitution and any change requires a constitutional amendment with unanimous support of the provinces.

Assuming all the provinces agreed to change the constitution, Canada could become a republic. But any elected president would decide that they had the democratic legitimacy to act on their own discretion in exercising their powers.

2018 February 15

Quantum Retrocausality

Adam Becker

Maybe the laws of quantum physics let the future influence the present. Retrocausality could save us from nonlocality and lets us make quantum mechanics consistent with general relativity.

The fundamental laws of physics work the same going backwards or forwards. This is time-reversal symmetry. If quantum physics has time-reversal symmetry, retrocausality seems to follow.

General relativity undoes the concept of now. Our perception that time passes is due to our limited perspective on the world. Past, present, and future form an eternal block. In a block universe, quantum retrocausality would be less strange.

We need a new version of quantum theory that incorporates the block universe to allow for retrocausality. A theory of quantum physics applies over all of spacetime, all at once. If quantum uncertainty keeps features of the quantum world persistently hidden from us, we may still be unable to send signals to the past.

Randomness in quantum physics becomes an illusion that appears because we only see part of the picture at once. If you are doing a sudoku puzzle and you start on one side, it looks as if you are seeing random events. But if you look at the whole thing at once, you can see a unique solution from the global constraints on the whole grid.

Retrocausality might lead to a theory of quantum gravity. What happens here and now could have effects far away in space and past time that only make sense in the block universe.

Quantum contextuality is a different new idea. Contextuality says the outcomes of quantum experiments depend on what other experiments are done at the same time.

AR These are hard, nutty ideas. Retrocausality dates back at least to Feynman and his speculations on advanced and retarded waves in EM theory. I mooted the sudoku analogy a few years ago but saw no way to translate it into quantum formalism.

2018 February 14


Jean-Claude Juncker

Some in the British political society are against the truth, pretending that I am stupid, stubborn federalist. I am strictly against a European superstate and always have been. I do not understand why some people insist on saying otherwise.

We are not the United States of America. We are the EU. The EU cannot build against its nations.


Boris Johnson

I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit and to frustrate the will of the people. I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen.

Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope. It is not good enough to say to remainers, you lost, get over it, because we must accept that many are actuated by noble sentiments, a sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.

The economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed. It is only by taking back control of our regulatory framework and our tariff schedules that we can do deals and exploit changes in the world economy.

AR Frustrating the will of Boris to damage the British economy in his attempt to impose an imperialist fantasy of world exploitation strikes me as the patriotic duty of any UK citizen who has the real interests of this island people at heart.

Given the known defects of the Brexit referendum campaign and the fact that voters split about half and half on the question, most statisticians would say the result was null, a mere arithmetical win, and no real basis for policy.


Daniel Finkelstein

George Soros is accused of being involved in a "secret plot" to persuade British voters to abandon Brexit.

When the populist governments in Hungary and Poland select as their public enemy George Soros, a Jewish financial speculator, and accuse him of being the puppeteer behind a conspiracy to undermine their democracy, Jews are nervous.

A common theme in such theories is that Jews are citizens of nowhere, forever plotting world domination. To be made exiles, as was the Hungarian-born George Soros and as were my parents, and then to be accused of rootlessness is surely the ultimate irony.

The idea on the populist left and right that there is an international elite, resting on global capital, hanging out in Davos, working to frustrate the interests of the people, is false. Davos is a boring conference where people sit on panels and talk about corporate policy on climate change.

George Soros is just a rich guy paying for some leaflets about Brexit.

AR Soros studied in the philosophy department founded by Karl Popper at LSE. I did too, between stints at Oxford, so I feel a natural solidarity with him.

2018 February 13

The King of Debt

The New York Times

President Trump has sent Congress a $4.4 trillion budget proposal that would add almost $1 trillion to the federal deficit next year and $7 trillion over the next 10 years.

Trump the businessman once called himself the "king of debt" and his budget request is seen as a vision statement.


President Trump has proposed a 2019 budget. Combined with the tax cuts Republicans passed last year, it would amount to one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in generations. It would also charge trillions of dollars in new debt to future Americans.

The proposal would raise military spending by 14% while cutting funding for the State Department by 27%. It would cut the Department of Health and Human Services by 20% and the Department of Education by 10%. It proposes cutting food stamps by around 30% over 10 years. Medicare and Medicaid are targeted for cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars.

His budget also recommends slashing funding for Amtrak and grant programs for highway and transit projects. He has announced a separate infrastructure proposal to bolster investment by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But he says the federal government will put up only $200 billion and get state and local governments and the private sector to pay the rest. Really?

Evolutionary Arms Races

John Rennie

Evolution suggests that over time, only one species should occupy an ecological niche. Yet ecosystems routinely include many competing species that stably coexist.

The "kill the winner" (KTW) hypothesis is that predator-prey relationships are often species specific. As one species starts forcing out its competitors, its predators prosper too, until predation pushes the number of prey back down again. Several rival species can coexist in equilibrium.

Astrobiologists looked closely at the KTW idea in 2015. The models used to validate the KTW idea allowed populations to rebound even after plummeting to fractions of individuals. In more realistic models, fluctuating prey populations kept dropping to zero and species coexistence disappeared.

Including evolution allowed arms races between prey and predators. Prey species got better at evading predators and predators got better at catching prey. Competition added more species diversity, the KTW effects kept any one species from taking over, and biodiversity flourished.

Space scientists sending future probes to seek signs of life on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn should hope to see the biochemical signatures of an entire ecosystem.

2018 February 12

Great Power Politics

John Bew

Davos man is a global superclass of economic transnationals. They made their fortunes through the globalization of the international economy and saw national governments as residues from the past. The Davos worldview captured the minds of many in the political class.

The weakening of the Davos model of progress is in part the product of historical forces. President Trump illustrates a profound shift. An age of relative equipoise between world powers is morphing into an era in which interstate competition will be pursued more nakedly.

There is no evidence that Trump has matured into the role of president or developed a more refined understanding of a complex world. His claim that it was time for America to start winning again spoke to a growing status anxiety in the American psyche. His administration plans to weaponize aid and trade in pursuit of the national interest.

The Chinese One Belt and One Road initiative announced in 2013 aims to create a new Silk Road across the Eurasian landmass plus a maritime equivalent through to the Mediterranean. The initiative secures Chinese interests and influence across a vast geographical expanse. For China, ultimate power still resides with the nation state.

The British national interest is to see the preservation of a rules-based international order in which trade flows freely. The UK cannot just pull up the drawbridge.

2018 February 11


Bryan Appleyard

Elon Musk is said to be worth about $20 billion. He started SpaceX in 2002 and plans to establish a colony on Mars. Via Tesla he is the world leader in battery technology.

SpaceX has big contracts to deliver payloads to the International Space Station. Its Falcon Heavy rocket is built to save and make money. Its reusable boosters avoid the need to build new ones for every launch.

Musk says he is "nauseatingly pro-American" and the United States is "the greatest country that has ever existed on Earth" — "the greatest force for good of any country that's ever been."

2018 February 10

Freedom of Conscience

Marilynne Robinson

Conscience is a human trait. The idea of conscience is found in Plato as self-awareness, a capacity for self-appraisal. The Torah regards moral conscience as universal, at least among those who respect and cultivate it in themselves.

Beyond that, conscience is remarkably chimerical. People who believe that an unconstrained capitalism will yield the best of all possible worlds might earnestly regret the disruptions involved in it. We are all indebted to legions of strangers.

There are taboos in history. Perhaps the famous stand of Winston Churchill in 1940 amounted to little more than waiting for the colonies and the United States to step in. His Iron Curtain speech in 1946 reads like a declaration of war, offering the British Empire as de facto encirclement of the Soviet Union and urging Americans to sustain what Britain could not.

A little wisdom on our part might have spared the world much grief and disaster, present and to come. To consider the possibility would be a significant act of conscience. Freedom of conscience is more profoundly inhibited by prejudice and taboo than it is by laws and institutions.

AR "Churchill dragged US into hot and cold wars" — discuss.

Tesla in space
Elon Musk

Falcon Heavy
CNN (13:12)
SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches
Tesla Roadster into solar
orbit near Mars

Anna Ijjas
Anna Ijjas

Poole Bay
Poole Bay today

Nuclear Policy Review
United States DoD

Hylas and the Nymphs
Hylas and the Nymphs

VASIMR (5:33)

Apple says revenues for 2018
Q1 will be $61±1 billion. It had
$163 billion in cash, net of its
$122 billion in debt, at the end
of 2017, and expects to pay
$38 billion to the US government
on its offshore cash pile as a
result of the tax reform.

"Let's call the whole thing off."
Hans-Olaf Henkel

No Brexit


2018 February 9

Fascism and Humanism

Adam Kirsch

Liberals in Europe and America are in a panic. They are issuing urgent warnings about the return of populism and nationalism, the decay of international institutions, the pollution of the public sphere by lies and propaganda. Meanwhile, the public votes for Brexit in the UK, nationalists in Hungary and Poland, and Trump in the United States.

Rob Riemen has spent his life bringing liberal intellectuals together to talk about the great problems of the day. His new book includes an essay titled "The Eternal Return of Fascism" and a fable titled "The Return of Europa" on the future of Europe. He believes there is nothing wrong with Europe that the best traditions of Europe cannot cure.

Anyone who invokes the Judeo-Christian tradition in Europe today is likely to be seen as a conservative or an Islamophobe. Riemen attacks the idea that earning a lot of money is the most important thing in life. He advocates spiritual and moral training, living in truth, doing what is right, creating beauty, and other such radiantly vague ideas.

Riemen believes that Europe once had a rich and ennobling culture and that it can only survive by returning to that elite cultural regime. The real source of fascism, he believes, is a society in which nothing is absolute and everything is transitory. He thinks people are content with pleasure where they should be striving for nobility of spirit.

2018 February 8

Quantum Mirage

Gil Kalai

Quantum computing is noisy, with random fluctuations and errors. When a quantum computer executes an action, in every computer cycle there is some probability that a qubit will get corrupted. Quantum error correction will require hundreds of physical qubits to represent a single logical qubit of very high quality.

I tried to model what happens if the errors due to noise are correlated. Interacting systems will have a tendency for errors to be correlated, raising the probability that errors will affect many qubits all at once. I studied what kind of correlations emerge from complicated quantum computations and what kind of correlations will cause a quantum computer to fail.

Guy Kindler and I calculated that the noise in a quantum computer will kill all the high-frequency waves in the Fourier decomposition of a complex waveform. We found good reasons to think that noise levels cannot be reduced far enough to demonstrate quantum supremacy and quantum error correction. Noisy quantum computers in the small and intermediate scale are too primitive to reach quantum supremacy, and so creating quantum error-correcting codes, which is harder, is also impossible.

Our critics say we draw conclusions about engineering of physical devices from considerations about computation and that we use insights of the theory of computation that are usually applied to large systems. They say the engineering difficulties are not fundamental barriers, and that with sufficient hard work and resources, the noise can be driven down to as close to zero as needed. But I think the effort required to obtain a low enough error level for any implementation of universal quantum circuits increases exponentially with the number of qubits.

So I think useful quantum computers are impossible.

2018 February 7

Back to the Future

Der Spiegel

Elon Musk has successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world. Its payload was a Tesla Roadster with a dummy astronaut called Starman at the wheel, the David Bowie song "Space Oddity" on the stereo, the Douglas Adams quote "Don't panic" on the sat-nav screen, and the Isaac Asimov "Foundation" text in the glove box.

Starman in orbit (1:59)

Rocket Man

The Times

A huge crowd cheered as a Falcon Heavy rocket powered by 27 engines, delivering up to 23 MN of thrust, thundered away from Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday on a test flight that opens the door to future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Elon Musk spent $90 million on the test. Its payload was his old red Tesla Roadster car, with a dummy astronaut at the wheel, on a journey to reach an Earth−Mars orbit around the Sun.

In the VIP viewing area the guests included Buzz Aldrin, who in 1969 walked on the Moon. Now aged 88, he tweeted: "It's a beautiful day for a rocket launch from my favourite launchpad."

Bob Giffen played a key role on the NASA launch team for all the Apollo moonshots and 88 space shuttle launches: "This guy Elon Musk, he has my total respect. Thanks to what he's been doing, soon we can go back to the Moon, we can seriously think about going to Mars .. This is a big step back to where we were."

Elon Musk is a billionaire who hopes to die on Mars. On Earth, he wants to solve traffic congestion by sending cars through tunnels at 250 km/h. He aims to connect the human brain to computers to combat the mortal threat of runaway AI. He has already reinvigorated interest in the space race, made electric cars aspirational, and transformed internet payments through his companies SpaceX, Tesla, and Paypal. At 46, he is a perfectionist with a big ego and has six kids.

AR Hero

Brain Zaps Boost Memory

Jordana Cepelewicz

For decades, neuroscientists have been treating movement and neurological disorders with deep brain stimulation. They have typically targeted the medial temporal lobe and hippocampus, which carry out critical functions that enable the formation and retrieval of memories. In most cases, the stimulation either disrupted or had no effect on memory performance.

Now researchers have enhanced memory by stimulating the left lateral temporal cortex. Although the region seems less central to memory, stimulating it yields better results. The hippocampus and medial temporal lobe are buried deep inside the brain, whereas the lateral temporal cortex is on the surface of the brain, so is an easier target for interventions.


Thomas L. Friedman

Israelis have the wind at their backs. They've built an awesome high-tech industry, and everyone's kid seems to work for a start-up. Even Israeli Arabs have caught the bug. Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker, and under President Trump, Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.

Everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

2018 February 6

Brexit Concession

Stephen Bush

The UK government has already made a crucial concession to the EU. It has agreed that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland. The only way to avoid customs and other checks at the Irish border is to maintain a large degree of regulatory and customs alignment with the EU27.

A soft exit from the EU is more likely to come about by logistical reality than by the views of MPs. The UK wants to maintain both the Good Friday Agreement and the open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. These objectives are inconsistent with a hard break from the EU.

Perhaps politicians seeking a hard Brexit can force negotiations to a halt or force an Irish government veto on any deal. If they can, then we are heading for the hardest of exits and likely a chaotic one. Otherwise, UK participation in some form of customs union with the EU is inevitable.

Earth 2

Norbert Lossau

Researchers have determined the density of the seven Trappist 1 planets. The system is 39 light years away and the central star is a red dwarf. All the planets consist mainly of rock, but Trappist 1e has about the size, density, and warmth as the Earth, allowing liquid water on it surface.

The Trappist 1 planets are so close that if you were to stand on one of them, neighboring planets would look about as big in the sky as our Moon. At least five of them have water in some form on the surface. The NASA James Webb space telescope should tell us more.

2018 February 5


Femi Oluwole

Our generation is set to receive the worst inheritance in peacetime history. The NHS limps from crisis to crisis. The housing market excludes us further each day. We go to university at the cost of a huge debt. We live in a capitalist economy without capital. Over 1 in 5 young people now think their life will amount to nothing.

Brexit is by far the worst aspect of our inheritance. It will make us poorer, cut us off from our friends, and leave us unable to address problems that require international cooperation to solve. It will deprive us of the right to live, work, and love anywhere in Europe. Over 3 in 4 of young people voted to remain.

Jeremy, we need your help to persuade the country to stop Brexit and deliver the radical change we need.

AR Conservatives ignore such desperation at their peril.


Natalie Wolchover

Some cosmologists say the Big Bang might instead have been a Big Bounce. Perhaps the universe expands and contracts cyclically, or perhaps it only bounced once. Either way, time is endless into the past and future.

In two new bouncing models, a period of slow contraction of the universe explains its smoothness and flatness, without the need for inflation. To match its present uniformity, the baby universe, when it was 1 cm across, must have had the same density everywhere to within 10 parts per million.

In the inflation scenario, the baby came from the exponential expansion of an initial speck measuring no more than 10^−22 m across. As long as that speck was infused with an inflaton field that was smooth and flat, the speck would have inflated into a smooth universe like ours.

In a bouncing model, a substance with negative energy could push everything apart against gravity. But adding negative energy makes the model unstable.

Anna Ijjas has found a bounce mechanism, a scalar field that would have braided itself into the gravitational field in a way that exerted negative pressure on the universe, reversing the contraction. The contracting universe bounces and starts expanding again before ever shrinking to a point. The bounce avoids a singularity and can be described by general relativity.

The second new model, proposed by Peter Graham, David Kaplan, and Surjeet Rajendran, puts a spin on the universe. Imagine 3 or more extra compact dimensions forming tiny loops. As the universe contracts, matter and energy can start spinning inside them, and the dimensions themselves will spin with the matter and energy. Apparently, vorticity in the extra dimensions can suddenly initiate a bounce.

In a third model, a bounce might occur when a universe contracts all the way to a singularity, when unknown quantum laws of gravity take over. No one knows whether this model can match the observed cosmos.

AR A nonsingular bounce spares us the inflationary multiverse, but a quantum multiverse remains. I think the latter is spurious, but I cannot prove it.


John Harris

The UK government underfunds the health service and cuts council funding for adult social care. By 2050, 1 in 4 of us will be over 65. Yet for many people, a combination of insecure work and a punitive and arbitrary benefits system makes the idea of planning for the future look like a sick joke.

Half a million people over the age of 60 spend most days in complete solitude. Half of all people aged 75 or over live alone. Loneliness and isolation increase the risk of developing conditions that might require residential care.

Cohousing was invented in Scandinavia and is now spreading elsewhere. The idea is to form intentional communities of households, each with a self-contained, private home, plus a shared community space. Let us build our visions of later life on imagination and hope.

AR I live in such a community.

2018 February 4

Brexit Dreamers

The Sunday Times

Conservative MPs warn prime minister Theresa May she will face a coup to install a dream team of three Brexiteers if she persists with plans to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU.

Europhobes urged their dream prime minister Boris Johnson to appoint Michael Gove as his deputy prime minister and Jacob Rees-Mogg as his chancellor if May is forced out.

Johnson says he is ready for a fight and the cavalry is coming to block the customs union plan when the Brexit war cabinet meets on Wednesday.

AR I prefer the Laurel and Hardy metaphor: the Mogg as Laurel and BoJo as Hardy — "another fine mess you've gotten me into!"

Germany über alles

Dominic Lawson

Some things never change. The German ambassador to London bewails the British obsession with the second world war.

Like every one of his predecessors I have known, Peter Ammon is effortlessly civilised. His modesty about German influence in the EU now seems like deception or delusion.

When he was chancellor, Helmut Kohl said adopting the euro was the only way Germany could become the dominant economic power in Europe without terrifying the French.

Germany expresses its power as being merely an expression of Europe. In German political discourse, the EU is portrayed as something greater, something almost more noble, than a mere power train for German economic success.

The modern German state only became respectable as a member of the EU. German national interest can be legitimately expressed only as a triumph of European interests.

Ammon criticizes British obsession with 1940. His own politics is profoundly affected by that same period. We should see German foreign policy for what it is.

AR Lawson has become a poisonous old toad. Seen correctly, Europe transcends both Germany and Britain. Demonising German power today is utterly counterproductive.

2018 February 3

Brexit — A Rant

Matthew Parris

Europhobia is moving from idiocy to dishonesty.

If you're going to set a nation on a daring but risky course, you examine the options. That's what civil servants are for. There is every reason why ministers should have wanted studies, no reason to be ashamed they exist, and every reason to be open about both the process and the results.

If you believe in Brexit, there's no shame in acknowledging that there are costs and uncertainties and you wanted to know and face up to them. You then add that civil servants are naturally precise about costs but cautious about benefits, but that you can see the bigger, brighter picture.

Guilt is all over the pages of this contemptible Tory story. Most MPs know that the referendum placed voters in an impossible position. They know that, narrowly, the voters made a mistake. They can see too that the party is now acting against the interests of the country.

And nobody has the spine to say so.

Imperial Hubris

Gary Younge

When Peter Ammon, the outgoing German ambassador to the UK, claimed this week that Brexiteers were fixated on the second world war, he was on to something. British nostalgia for a particular version of UK history long preceded Brexit. But he was only half right.

The Brexit vote was certainly underpinned by a melancholic longing for a glorious past, but the era it sought to relive was less the second world war than the empire. For if memories of the war made some feel more defiant, recollections of empire made them deluded.

It was through this distorted lens — "Let's put the Great back in Great Britain" — that a majority voted to leave. Echoes of empire reverberated through the campaign and have also framed the UK negotiating strategy. The past 18 months have been a journey from hubris to humiliation.

Theresa May is a faithful reflection not only of her government but of the country at this moment. Brexiteers have ostensibly got what they want: Brexit. They are now finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in a neoliberal globalized economy.

May is no more personally to blame for the mess than Anthony Eden was for the 1956 Suez crisis. Once again, Britain has overplayed its hand. Preferring to live in the past rather than learn from it, Brits are diminished in the present and clueless about the future.

Hylas and the Nymphs

Katrin Kohl

In suggesting that #MeToo legitimizes her removal of an iconic painting from public view, Clare Gannaway insults those who contributed to that initiative. The claim that this act is about challenging us and not about censorship is unconvincing. Such an aim would be better met by framing the work in an exhibition that promotes productive debate.

A curator's job is to enable the public to see works and understand the historical processes of which they form a part. Nazi curators, too, challenged us by removing art from public view because it conflicted with their political aims and puritanical taste. But few would now consider this to have been anything other than censorship.

AR Clare Gannaway is the curator of contemporary art at the Manchester Art Gallery.

NASA: 40 Days to Mars

The Space Academy

NASA has given $10 million to Ad Astra Rocket Company of Texas to develop its Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).

VASIMR heats plasma to 10 MK using EM waves, then blows it out the back. It can accelerate a ship to 10 times the speed of a chemical rocket and use 10 times less fuel. With this engine, a ship could get to Mars in 40 days.

Ad Astra CEO Franklin Chang Diaz: "This is like no other rocket that you may have seen in the past. It is a plasma rocket. The VASIMR Rocket is not used for launching things; it is used for things already in orbit. This is called in-space propulsion."

AR For starships we'll also need a fusion reactor to make the EM waves.

Graphene Power Packs

The Space Academy

Carbon atoms in a thin sheet of graphene jiggle with thermal energy. Sheets of graphene under an STM are seen to buckle like the snapping back and forth of a twisted sheet of metal. These graphene waves can form an ambient temperature power source.

Electrodes on either side of a length of buckling graphene measure a tiny shifting voltage. A square micron patch can deliver 100 nW and a square mm patch 100 mW. This can be enough to power a wrist watch or a medical implant indefinitely.

2018 February 2

Quantum Algorithms

Ariel Bleicher

The chemical behavior of a molecule depends on the behavior of its electrons. These exist in a superposition of many classical states, and the quantum state of each electron depends on the states of all the others. Classically calculating these entangled states can become a nightmare of exponentially increasing complexity.

A quantum computer can deal with the intertwined fates of the electrons under study by superposing and entangling qubits. Each qubit you add doubles the states the system can simultaneously store. Just 50 entangled qubits could model quantum states that would require more than a quadrillion classical bits to encode.

Qubits can be controlled with gates defined in linear algebra. Quantum gates guide qubits into a succession of superpositions and entanglements and then measure the output. By assembling gates into logic circuits, theorists can define quantum algorithms.

In a sampling problem, the goal is to produce a series of samples that look as though they came from this circuit. Each outcome is a string of many values, each of which may be influenced by some or all of the other values.

In 2010, Scott Aaronson and Alex Arkhipov described a quantum machine that sends photons through an optical circuit that generates output patterns with specific probabilities. Reproducing these patterns became known as boson sampling. Aaronson and Arkhipov reasoned that boson sampling would start to strain classical resources at around 30 photons.

In 2017, an IBM team showed how a classical supercomputer can simulate sampling from random circuits on as many as 56 qubits. But the simulation took more than a billion times longer than a quantum computer might take. Soon the quantum contenders will achieve supremacy.

No to Hard Brexit

Chuka Umunna

The pro-European movement brings people who do not want to see Brexit happen at all together with those who accept it may happen but want a soft Brexit. What unites us is that we want the people to have a say on the form of Brexit.

You could argue there was a mandate from the 2016 referendum for the UK to leave the EU. But all of the groups are united in their determination that the people have got to have a place at the table in the process. How we leave the EU and the form of Brexit we end up with should not be dictated by a ministerial elite in Westminster.

Some people want to ensure their parliamentarian is not sidelined in this process. Others want the people to get a final say through a general election. Given the volatility of British politics, who knows where we will be later this year.

2018 February 1

EU Exit Analysis

Peter Walker

The government will not oppose the release of a leaked Brexit analysis. Brexit minister Steve Baker said economic forecasts by government officials were always wrong. Ministers say the study is interim and incomplete as it does not consider the bespoke deal desired by the government.

Junior justice minister Phillip Lee: "If these figures turn out to be anywhere near right, there would be a serious question over whether a government could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging."

Lee has been reprimanded by the chief whip. No action has been taken against Baker, whose comments prompted an angry response from the head of the FDA, the union for senior civil servants.

AR I was once a committee member of the FDA.

Quantum Intelligence

George Musser

Google, Microsoft, IBM, and other tech giants are pouring money into quantum machine learning. A quantum AI system should be powerful, but it suffers from a kind of locked-in syndrome that can negate its apparent advantages.

A neural network is an interconnected grid of basic on-off neurons. A neuron monitors the output of multiple other neurons and switches on if enough of them are on. Typically, the neurons are arranged in layers, from input to output, with perhaps a billion interconnections that adapt via trial and error during learning.

On a classical computer, the interconnections are in a big matrix of numbers, and running the network means doing matrix algebra. Manipulation of large matrices is exponentially faster on a quantum computer. But so far machine learning based on quantum matrix algebra has been demonstrated only on machines with 4 qubits.

Quantum learning systems embed a problem in a network of qubits and process the qubits without collapsing the ongoing calculation. To get the answer you measure the quantum state, which collapses it, wiping out the rest of the data before you can see it. The art in writing a quantum algorithm is to cancel out wrong answers, so the final measured state is the right answer.

Scott Aaronson: "People have often been very cavalier about whether these algorithms give a speedup."

AR I talked with Scott about such things at a Skövde conference in 2001.



Quantum Supremacy

British Empire
The British Empire



Emily Ratjkowski
Emily Ratajkowski

AR Fond memories
of life in Germany



2018 January 31

Gamma Rays From Black Holes

Summer Ash

An observed gamma ray excess from the centre of the Milky Way can be explained by weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) annihilating when they meet other WIMPs, but bumps in the signal must be caused by other sources, such as black holes or pulsars.

Dark matter piling up at the edge of intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) should produce enough gamma rays to account for the excess, so long as there are about one thousand IMBHs in the innermost regions of the galaxy.

These IMBHs range from tens to hundreds of thousands of solar masses. They are believed to form in the early universe either when massive stars went supernova and collapsed or by growing from the seed of a primordial black hole.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) first detected a merging pair of IMBHs in 2015 and has detected another three pairs since then. LIGO could show that dark matter spikes near IMBHs are behind the gamma excess in our galaxy.


Douglas Hofstadter

As a language lover and an impassioned translator, as a cognitive scientist and a lifelong admirer of the human mind's subtlety, I have followed the attempts to mechanize translation for decades. Once I ran across a letter written in 1947 by the mathematician Warren Weaver, in which he made this curious claim:

When I look at an article in Russian, I say, "This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode."

Some years later he offered a different viewpoint: "No reasonable person thinks that a machine translation can ever achieve elegance and style. Pushkin need not shudder."

Having devoted one unforgettably intense year of my life to translating Alexander Pushkin's sparkling novel in verse Eugene Onegin into my native tongue (that is, having radically reworked that great Russian work into an English-language novel in verse), I find this remark of Weaver's far more congenial than his earlier remark.

To me, translation is a profoundly human art form that graciously carries clear ideas in Language A into clear ideas in Language B, and the bridging act not only should maintain clarity, but also should give a sense for the flavor, quirks, and idiosyncrasies of the writing style of the original author.

2018 January 30

Brexit Pride

Peter Ammon

The UK decision to leave the EU is a tragedy and a depressing moment. Some Brexiteers are motivated by a sense of national identity built around Britain standing alone in the second world war. That is a nice story, but does not solve any problem of today.

Many Brexiteers told me they wanted to preserve a British identity and this was being lost in a thick soup of other identities. Some of them define themselves by what their father did in the war, and it gives them great personal pride.

The idea that Germany dominates the EU is a horrible story. When I tell people in Germany that I am confronted by this narrative occasionally in Britain, they say that is absurd and I must be joking.

I do not see a way for Europeans to persuade the British to rethink the decision. This is a proud country, and rightly so. For Europeans there would be no problem if Britain wanted to stay.

EU Exit Analysis

Financial Times

The UK will be left worse off under all Brexit scenarios, with financial services, chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, cars and retailing among the sectors worst hit, according to a secret Whitehall briefing. The document, obtained by BuzzFeed, suggests that a No Deal scenario reverting to WTO rules would reduce growth by 8% over the next 15 years.

Polish Denial

Tony Barber

The Polish government aims to criminalise statements that mention examples of Polish involvement in Nazi atrocities. It would become a crime to say that in 1941, Poles slaughtered hundreds of Jewish fellow citizens in the town of Jedwabne. In 2001, the Polish president apologised on behalf of the nation for the massacre, which is recorded in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

2018 January 29

Quantum Computing

Philip Ball

Quantum supremacy — the day when a quantum computer can carry out a task beyond the means of our best classical supercomputers — may soon be upon us. But the fundamental physics of quantum computing is far from solved. There is still everything to play for.

Quantum mechanics creates a computational resource unavailable to classical devices. To carry out a quantum computation, you need to keep all your qubits coherent. Researchers building quantum computers must stave off decoherence, which they can now do only for a fraction of a second.

Quantum computing is noisy. Random fluctuations will occasionally flip or randomize the state of a qubit, potentially derailing a calculation. Researchers working on quantum computers have created strategies for how to deal with the noise, but they impose a huge computational overhead.

Quantum simulations are still proving their worth on small quantum computers. A quantum algorithm is in use to find the ground states of simple molecules, which classical computers can already simulate accurately. We are still waiting for a demonstration of quantum supremacy.

The British Empire

Kenan Malik

The British Empire began to take shape during the early 17th century, when Britain was still a feudal kingdom, with a parliament but little democracy, and when manufacture was dominated by the handloom rather than the factory.

At the beginning of 18th century, India's share of the world economy was 23%, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time Britain left India, it had dropped to less than 4%. Shashi Tharoor: "India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain's rise for two hundred years was financed by its depredations in India."

A triangular trade used goods from Britain to purchase slaves from West Africa, who were taken to the Caribbean, and from whose labor great riches flowed back to merchants in Britain. Without the slave plantations, it is unlikely that Britain would have been able to forge an empire as it did.

Belgian colonialism instituted an almost unimaginable reign of barbarism and terror. Congo was transformed into a mass labor camp, in which brutal punishments were inflicted for trivial offenses. Between the 1870s and the 1920s, the population of the Congo fell by an estimated 10 million people, a death toll of Holocaust dimensions.

Supporters of the British Empire argue that its rule was more benign than the terror of the Belgian Congo. But in India some 3 million died in the Bengal famine of 1942−1943, caused by the British decision to export rice, for use in the war theaters and for consumption in Britain.

In 1807, Britain passed a law banning the slave trade. But for three centuries, in a trade dominated by Britain, some 12 million Africans were transported to the Americas, half of them in the peak years of the Atlantic slave trade, when about half of these slaves were taken on British ships.

Britain ended slavery with the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act. Slave owners were well compensated for the loss of their slaves, who were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labor each week for their former masters, for a further 4−6 years after their supposed liberation.

The suggestion that the British Empire was good because it ended slavery reflects historical amnesia. The arguments for the moral good of colonialism are threadbare. Imperial nostalgia resurfaces when Britain is searching for a sense of identity, as in the Brexit discussion.

2018 January 28


Niall Ferguson

Jack Ma is the founder and chairman of Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. From the outset, Ma envisioned an online marketplace for everything. Ma moved faster than Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to diversify his business. Alibaba pioneered electronic payments with Alipay to allow online purchases with no transaction fees. Today in China, everyone pays for everything with smartphones.

As an investment, Alibaba has been a dream. What sets Alibaba apart from Amazon is the sheer scale and speed of growth of the Chinese e-commerce market. Every emerging market in the world lags behind China when it comes to e-commerce.

Ma wants to roll out the Chinese model not in America or Europe but everywhere else. Today Alibaba sends a million packages to Russia per day. Similar expansion has taken Alibaba to India and southeast Asia.

Until recently, I assumed that Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FANG) would take everywhere except China, which would be dominated by Chinese rivals Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT). In fact BAT could take everywhere except America.

Brexit Vassal State

Nick Clegg

I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg about a crucial component in the Brexit puzzle: the transition period.

Rees-Mogg claimed that the UK will become a vassal state for two years or more if, as planned, the government agrees in the EU summit in March to abide by the rules and courts of the bloc while losing the rights and privileges of a full member state.

Other EU countries are perplexed too. It would be more honest simply to extend the Article 50 timetable. No one involved in Brexit believes that everything will be wrapped up by March 2019.

Rees-Mogg suggests a dramatic change in direction. By extending the Article 50 timetable, the government would both provide businesses with continuity and increase its negotiating leverage in the Brexit talks. An extension requires only the consent of the EU27.

Playing for more time is the right thing to do.

2018 Holocaust Memorial Day

Inhuman Growth

Rowan Williams

Economic metrics such as GDP tell us little or nothing about human flourishing. Most of our language about economic growth is an imprisoning picture. We have taught ourselves to assume that the expansion of our economy in certain ways is both natural and beneficial for everyone.

We have stopped looking at the effects of the system we inhabit. Instead we say the kind of growth we have been used to is the best or only engine for lifting populations out of poverty, or that the massive inequality of the global system is just a minor malfunction in a generally benign story.

We have stopped asking what wealth is for. Lacking a coherent picture of what a good human life looks like, we have filled the gap with quantified measures that tell us little or nothing about how far real human beings are flourishing in all aspects of their experience.

Midlife Wisdom

Kieran Setiya

An emptiness in the pursuit of worthy goals is one form of midlife crisis.

Arthur Schopenhauer preached the futility of desire. Getting what you want can fail to make you happy. If you get what you want, your pursuit is over and you are aimless, flooded with emptiness and boredom.

Engagement with projects subverts itself. When you aim at a future goal, satisfaction is deferred, but the moment you succeed, your achievement is in the past. You exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye.

For Schopenhauer, there is no way out: a midlife crisis is simply the human condition. But Schopenhauer was wrong. To see his mistake, we need to distinguish between telic and atelic activities.

Telic activities aim at terminal states of completion and exhaustion. Atelic activities have no point of termination at which they aim, or final state in which they have been achieved and there is no more to do. Their temporality is not that of a project with an ultimate goal, but of a limitless process.

Give meaning to your life through activities that have no terminal point. Since they cannot be completed, your engagement with them will not subvert itself. Nor does it invite the sense of frustration that Schopenhauer scorns, where fulfilment is always in the future or the past.

In midlife, find a balance between the telic and atelic.

2018 January 26

How To Be Creative

Matt Richtel

Tapping into your thoughts and dreams is the first step to finding your creativity. Your mind wanderings are just as valid a force of imagination as any. They are your natural impulses and your inner creator speaking out.

There is a moment in any creative flight when you think you have something profound and wonderful to give to the world. This is audacious and possibly delusional, but it is the price of admission. Give in to this feeling.

Creators tend to pile up ideas, like notes on slips of paper on the nightstand, then they work on them. From hard work comes understanding of your medium. Create a version of your thing and let it build and develop.

Perfectionism is the big foe of creativity. Your own impulse is perfect in one good way. You have shown the courage to create something that would never delight anyone if it were stopped for want of perfection.

Right when the urge hits to pause and perfect things, take a nap, and return later, refreshed. When you are ready, seek feedback. Seek it from someone who can see your creation for what it can be.

Brexit Fudge

Philip Stephens

Theresa May's approach to Britain's departure from the EU has become a strategy to avoid a strategy. The prime minister's chosen road to Brexit is paved with fudge. Hard choices can wait. The only thing that counts is getting over the line by March 2019.

"Instead of doing what we're normally doing in the trade negotiations — taking two divergent economies with low levels of trade and trying to bring them closer together to enhance that trade — we are taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between them, and selectively moving them, hopefully very modestly, apart."
Philip Hammond

"While we want a deep and special economic partnership with the EU after we leave, these could not be described as very modest changes."
10 Downing Street

2018 January 25

Merkel at Davos

Die Welt

German chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe faces challenges similar to those it faced 100 years ago. Protectionism and nationalism are not the answers. Germany is committed to a multilateral world and will contribute to solving global problems.

Merkel said Germany must renew its social market economy. She called for a common European response to protectionism and the US tax reform, a common defense and refugee policy, and development of the EU internal market. She also said Europe should develop a digital agenda.

Merkel demanded completion of EZ banking union and business tax reform. On European defense cooperation, she said the EU27 must send clear signals to global heavyweights. On the refugee crisis, she spoke of a global conflict and a lot of work to deal with refugees in Europe.

Davos Update

The Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel urged the world to fight the poisonous effect of populism and to resist protectionism. She said UK access to the EU single market requires accepting freedom of movement. And she said EU members should push for closer ties on defense and foreign policy.

French president Emmanuel Macron warned against a race to the bottom on taxes and regulation and emphasised the importance of globalization. He called for improvement on issues including energy, migration, digital policy, and investment.

Macron: "The core strategy for me in the coming years and especially for this year is to manage to deliver a new foundation for our Europe .. my view is that we have to redesign a ten-year strategy to make Europe a natural economic, social, green, scientific, and political power."

Brexit Masochism

Jörg Schindler

The British government has largely stopped governing since last June. The health care system has almost collapsed, the housing shortage has become acute, and the gap between rich and poor has widened.

Brexit is hanging around British necks like a millstone. The referendum vote on the EU has split the Conservative party into factions arguing passionately over how hard Brexit should be.

Theresa May became prime minister as a consequence of the Brexit vote. During the referendum campaign, she managed to seem both for and against the EU. Now she constantly faces rebellions as Brexit overshadows everything.

2018 January 24

Davos 2018

Martin Wolf

The liberal international order is sick. Democracy is in crisis. States that a decade ago seemed promising success stories are sliding into authoritarian rule.

President Trump sides with autocrats abroad and violates US norms of governance. He tears at the fabric of international cooperation and aims to put America First. International relations are now to be transactional.

Moves toward free trade have been minor since 2001. Trade and capital flows are growing no faster than world output. Hostility to immigration is rampant and populists favor their own voters.

Davos people need to consider what to do:

1 Choose between domestic political cohesion or international economic integration. Economic life demands political stability. Voters must feel that their interests count.

2 Manage the global commons and maintain global stability. More liberal trade, open borders for free movement of people, and free flow of global capital are lesser priorities. Nationalism is the trend.

Or they can sink with their global order.

Machines Can't Dream

Bill McDermott

We can create a world where AI benefits humanity. Automation can free people from dangerous, repetitive tasks and afford us the freedom to focus on activities that only humans can perform, with empathy, moral judgment, and love. We can evolve augmented humanity.

Technology leaders are exploring ways to deploy collaborative robots in factories. Robots will work best when AI is used to program the robots and assign work to the humans alongside them. Young people will need the right skills and existing workers will face new requirements.

Experts disagree on how many jobs can be automated through AI. Some jobs can be fully automated but almost every job can be partly automated. AI also helps by taking over jobs that are too difficult or dangerous for people.

Most industry analysts agree that AI will be a core driver for economic development. The benefits of AI for companies go far beyond cost savings. They include more innovation, improved forecasting, optimized operations, more personalized customer services, and enhanced user experience for consumers.

Machines don't dream. Even when trained with high volumes of data, machines only learn from the past and cannot imagine the future. Capabilities such as flexibility, creativity, curiosity, and emotional intelligence let us dream big and rise to our full human potential.

AR Bill is SAP CEO.


John Ross
John Ross about 30 years ago

Perfect Alexandra Palace, London
19-21 Jan 2018


Royal Air Force

1918 — 2018

As the RAF celebrates its 100th anniversary, the UK is grappling with a resurgent Russia and a number of potential adversaries with advanced jets and air defence systems.

The F-35B will fly from the Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales carriers, and 14 of them will arrive in RAF Marham this summer, as part of an initial tranche of 48 for the UK. The force will be run by the RAF and Royal Navy.

The fate of a further 90 F-35s due to be purchased by the UK remains unclear, given uncertainty over how to plug a £20 billion funding gap at the Ministry of Defence. The F-35 has a unit cost of £100 million, only 15% of which goes to British companies.

2018 January 23

Negotiating Brexit

Theresa May

There will be no second referendum on Britain leaving the EU. Parliament gave the British public the choice and they made their decision. I completely understand the concern in the EU and in Germany.

I look ahead to the next stage of negotiations with the EU. We share the same values, we have shared interests and challenges, and we are unconditionally committed to maintaining European defence and security in the future.

I want German citizens currently living in the UK and UK citizens living in Germany to know that they are secure and they can stay. We want to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement and a security partnership.

A lasting good relationship is important for people on both sides of the Channel. The decision to leave the EU was taken because people felt that decisions about their future should be made in the UK.

Germany on Brexit

Peter Ptassek

Friendly reminder: "Sufficient progress" in withdrawal questions meant: We are not there yet. More work to be done. Many #Brexit left overs will surface when EU-Commission starts drafting withdrawal agreement, e.g. text on Ireland! Point here is: Legal text has to be clear.

2018 January 22

John Ross

1968 − 2018
Funeral Service, Poole Crematorium

AR In memoriam

Christian Psychology

The Observer

Jordan Peterson believes most university humanities courses should be defunded. He also supports socialized healthcare, redistribution of wealth, and decriminalization of drugs. His videos on the psychological significance of biblical stories have been watched millions of times.

He says life is tragic. Happiness is a pointless goal. Compare yourself not with others but with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life.

You conjure your own world. You only see what you aim at. If your aims are dark and corrupted, you will see the dark and corrupt things that facilitate your aims. And if your aims are high, you will see different things.

Put meaning before expediency. Have the courage to move toward meaning. This is what the biblical stories tell us. Take the high path, pick up the heavy rock, and hope for new strength.

Peterson says most morality is cowardice: "Consult your resentment. It is revelatory. Don't underestimate malevolence and don't underestimate the utility of your capacity for malevolence. If you're weak, you should turn yourself into a monster. Cowering in your basement resenting everyone is the real pathway to darkness."

Peterson is a Christian: "I'm not sure we understand anything about the role of consciousness in space and time. I don't think the world is the way we think it is. I'm not a materialist. Whatever is going on down there at the subatomic level of matter is so weird that the people who understand it don't understand it."

2018 January 21

Free Enterprise

Theresa May

Always aim for the best. Never settle for less. Government and private enterprise have always worked together to achieve great things.

Those who provide services to the public bring dedication and professionalism to their work. Whether they are employed by the government or local council directly or work for a business that is contracted to provide that service, all deserve our gratitude and respect.

A free society only works when everyone plays by the same rules. By this time next year, all listed companies will have to reveal the pay ratio between bosses and workers and explain how they take into account employee interests at board level. Businesses will have to take into account the long-term consequences of their decisions.

The state has a role to play when things go wrong, by stepping in and supporting those affected. Every successful business is built on a thriving, supportive society. I am determined to stand up to the minority of businesses that give the majority a bad name.

That way, we can sustain our economy and ensure the public and private sectors provide the services we expect and deserve.


Jane Adams

New data from American, Canadian and British college students indicates that perfectionism has increased by a third since 1989. As college students are returning to school after their winter breaks, many parents worry about the pressure their kids are putting on themselves.

Perfectionism is a personality trait or characteristic that is innate in many people. It is nurtured in some environments, notably in families where personal accomplishment, academic or otherwise, is rewarded. But for other parents, it can be difficult to know when perfectionism in their kids is cause for concern. After all, the high standards they set for themselves probably got them into college.

While perfectionism is associated with greater productivity, conscientiousness and career success, many parents are concerned. If you are concerned about perfectionist tendencies in your child, remind them that good enough is the goal, not perfect. And meanwhile, send care packages.

AR Uh? Perfectionism is not a problem.


Stop Brexit


Shore Road
My local beach this morning

Bournemouth beach
Here, 28 weeks ago


2018 January 20

American Shutdown

The New York Times

Trump became president one year ago today.

2018 January 19

French Connection

The Times

The Anglo-French summit was a meeting of countries that have long carried roughly equal economic and strategic weight. Progress was made to secure cooperation after Brexit that was taken for granted before it.

Emmanuel Macron revels in his status as the embodiment of revived French confidence. In Brexit negotiations he may hold the whip hand. Far from interpreting the 2016 Brexit vote as a warning to Brussels to loosen its supranationalism, he seeks accelerated fiscal union and a unified European defence posture.

On Brexit, Macron seeks to:
Woo the asset managers who at present invest £7 trillion from desks in London
Drive a hard bargain as Britain manoeuvres to add financial services to a trade deal
Deny Britain the benefits of the single market unless it shoulders the obligations

Britain and France are the only two European powers able to project significant military force. Working closely together makes sense.

2018 January 18

Decline of the West

Laura Spinney

Western culture is reaching a critical juncture. Cycles of inequality and resource use are heading for a tipping point that in past civilizations precipitated political unrest, war, and finally collapse.

Peter Turchin used biological population equations to describe the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. He found two superimposed cycles. One, lasting 2 or 3 centuries, starts with a fairly equal society. The population grows, the supply of labor outstrips demand, and the workers get poorer, triggering a turbulent phase, until the misery of the lowest strata and infighting between elites cause collapse. The other, of 50 years, has peaceful and turbulent halves too.

In US history, Turchin found peaks of unrest in 1870, 1920, and 1970, with the end of the next cycle, around 2020, coinciding with the turbulent part of the longer cycle. Current levels of inequality and political divisions in America show it is entering the end of the cycle. Brexit and the Catalan crisis hint that Europe is also feeling the strain.

Safa Motesharrei modeled human populations as predators and natural resources as prey. He split the predators into two groups, the haves and the have-nots, and showed that either extreme inequality or resource depletion pushed a society to collapse, with collapse irreversible when the two coincide. The haves are buffered by their wealth from the effects of resource depletion for longer than the have‑nots and so resist calls for change until it is too late.

Humans are not great at playing a long game. Every time a new technology is invented and large numbers of people use it without foresight, problems arise. Examples are climate change resulting from the excess use of fossil fuels and overuse of antibiotics leading to microbial resistance.

AR The owl of Minerva flies at dusk, said Hegel.

Stop Brexit

Andrew Adonis

Brexit is not a done deal. It can be reversed by a referendum on the Brexit terms early next year. Opinion polls show a majority against Brexit and a surge of support for continued EU membership among younger voters.

Some in Europe think there might be rich commercial pickings from Brexit. But the ill effects of European fragmentation and division far outweigh any benefits from gaining business at the expense of Brexit Britain.

The Brexit obsession is a distraction from real UK challenges. Britain is facing a crisis in housing, education, healthcare, employment, and the incessant rise of social and regional inequalities. All this is feeding populism and undermining the national fabric.

There is still time to hold a referendum. I am confident that the British people will recognise that the balance of advantages lies in continued EU membership.


Zoe Williams

Ben Bradley is tasked with attracting young people to the Conservative party. His proposed fix for unemployed people is for them to have vasectomies. Belief in the poor as inherently inferior, morally polluting, and intellectually dysgenic is the logical conclusion.

In a novel, such hubris would get a comical comeuppance. In real life, it ends in unfathomable darkness. This is why novels are more nourishing than politics, but they are not lucrative, so if this is your plan, remember not to have children.

AR Neuter novelists?

2018 January 17

New Eras

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Lighthouse, Poole

W.A. Mozart: Symphony #35 Haffner
J. Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto in B flat
C. Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto in E flat
A. Dvořák: Symphony #5

American Apocalypse

The New York Times

The US Nuclear Posture Review sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of attacks on US infrastructure.

Cyberattacks against the United States and its interests would be regarded as sufficient to justify a nuclear response. Experts say a cyberattack is an efficient way to paralyze systems like the power grid, cellphone networks, and the backbone of the internet without using nuclear weapons.

The draft review cites concern about expanding threats in space and cyberspace to the command and control systems of the American nuclear arsenal. The nuclear response networks could be disabled or fed false data in a cyberattack. Any conflict would begin with a lightning strike on space and communications systems.

The draft strategy embraces US production of a new generation of small, low-yield nuclear weapons. The new plan would push the price tag for a makeover of the US nuclear arsenal above the previous estimate of $1.2 trillion.

AR Do we need to start building bunkers?

Brexit Britain

Financial Times

French president Emmanuel Macron is visiting Britain this week and defence is top of the agenda. Both sides want a new bilateral relationship to reaffirm and preserve ties after Brexit.

Macron hopes to persuade Britain to sign up to his proposed European Intervention Initiative (EII). Another plan, the Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco) on defence, is an EU project.

Brits are sceptical about integrating UK armed forces with those of Europe. But this is a luxury the UK can no longer afford. The EII is a way to start a new and deep partnership with the continent.

UK participation in the €5.5 billion European Defence Fund is likely to be part of the second phase of Brexit talks. The UK government plans to continue paying into the fund after Brexit.

AR Bilateral — what about Germany?

Carillion Collapse

Der Spiegel

The Carillion collapse is enormously sensitive for Theresa May. In 2016, the group blamed Brexit for its poor business performance. The UK governments like to talk up the strength of the British economy, but the Carillion bankruptcy says otherwise.

"The pace of new order intake has slowed in the second half. We believe this is due in part to the changes within UK government departments following the EU referendum result, as they reassessed their spending priorities."
Carillion, December 2016

"Carillion was left with just £29 million in cash when it collapsed .. the insolvent construction company owed £1.29 billion to its banks."
Gill Plimmer, January 2017

AR Yet the directors were paid millions.

Wishful Winfrey

Kurt Andersen

Perhaps more than any other single American, Oprah Winfrey is responsible for giving national platforms and legitimacy to all sorts of magical thinking, from pseudoscientific to purely mystical, fantasies about extraterrestrials, paranormal experience, satanic cults, and more. The various fantasies she has promoted on all her media platforms are not as dangerous as Donald Trump's mainstreaming of false conspiracy theories, but for three decades she has had a major role in encouraging Americans to abandon reason and science in favor of the wishful and imaginary.

2018 January 16

France and Britain

Janan Ganesh

France flourished in the three postwar decades and set the terms of European integration. Britain faced industrial disarray and rebuffs in its dithering bids to join the European project. Once Britain had joined, the next three decades saw it catch up and edge slightly ahead.

Today, the entire UK governing class is occupied with negotiating a Brexit for which all the options seem dismaying. Meanwhile France is turning outward. Emmanuel Macron is liberalising French labour regulations, reducing state holdings in big companies, and talking up France.

Formal departure from the EU is not the same as meaningful independence from it. Brits may face EU standards, courts, and budgets, minus a say over them. Unless Britain transforms its trade, Europe will continue to dominate its nominally sovereign affairs.

Poland and Hungary

Gideon Rachman

The Polish government stands accused of violating the EU founding principles. It has turned state broadcasting into propaganda and cleared the way to stack the Polish courts. It is also making life hard for independent media and pushing alarming reforms of the voting system.

The EU faces a fundamental dilemma. If the EU authorities fail to take action, they will be ignoring threats to democracy and the rule of law. If they take action, they let a nationalist government say foreign bureaucrats are trying to undermine Polish independence.

The Hungarian government has gone further than Poland in undermining the independence of the media and the courts, but Hungary has powerful friends in Germany. The German government wants good relations with Poland.

Flowering Plants

Jordana Cepelewicz

Terrestrial plants first appeared nearly 50 My BP, and flowering plants 100 My BP. Once angiosperms emerged, their diversity grew far faster than that of the gymnosperms and ferns. Today, the 350 000 flowering plant species constitute 90% of all plants on land.

As angiosperms evolved, early lineages often duplicated their whole genome. The extra copies of genes took on new functions. Because carrying so much genetic material was taxing, natural selection then aggressively pruned unneeded sequences.

This genome downsizing set off a cascade of effects. Less DNA let the flowering plants build their leaves from smaller cells, with a high density of stomata, veins, and photosynthetic cells. Thus they turned sunlight into sugars more efficiently.

Angiosperms exhibit a nearly 2,400-fold difference between their smallest and largest genomes, compared to 196-fold for ferns and 16-fold for gymnosperms. So angiosperms can better tune their physiology to their environment and live in more diverse habitats.

2018 January 15


Thomas Powers

Daniel Ellsberg is best known for worrying about the American war in Vietnam. But his first and biggest worry was the American plans for nuclear war. He worked at RAND on nuclear war planning just before and during the Kennedy administration.

In 1961, Ellsberg learned that the United States could easily destroy the Soviet missile force. Only four ICBMs were ready to go, all at a single site. They took a long time to prepare for launch and were in the open, close enough together to get all four with a single nuclear hit.

The principal author of the Strategic Air Command plan was General Curtis LeMay. His goal was the sudden and utter destruction of the Soviet Union, and his plan called for nuclear strikes on just about every city in Russia and in China. Herman Kahn called it wargasm.

The planners had even added up the probable number of dead: about 380 million people. Ellsberg says the danger persists as long as the weapons are there. These weapons are too dangerous to have because they are too dangerous to use.

2018 January 14

An Islamic State

Azadeh Moaveni

The first attempts at a modern Islamic state had to flounder. Young Muslims had grown up under the paradigms of nationalism, European racism, and harsh police states, and carried these inherited behaviors into the caliphate formed by the Islamic State. It will take generations to unlearn these tendencies and deconstruct what went wrong.

The Islamic State has revitalized the dream of some form of Islamic homeland. This is an idea with more appeal than many in the West want to admit. A broad mainstream embrace of a collective Muslim identity has prompted young Muslims to view themselves as a collective community.

In Europe, an idealized future Muslim state is a place where integration does not require secularization. Across the Mideast, young Muslims belong to a generation living in countries that have stripped the notion of citizenship of meaning. No wonder they identify as citizens of Islam, rather than whatever country whose passport they hold.

The Islamic State caliphate grew out of the Syrian civil war, but it was also made possible by thousands of Muslims from across the world leaving their countries behind in pursuit of a dream. The Islamic State claimed to represent the idea of a caliphate. It remains squarely in the minds of Muslims, even if many keep those sentiments from public view.

AR It must therefore remain squarely in the minds of national security planners.


Rheinmetall Defence
Excellent choice: British Army wants to spend £3 billion on Rheinmetall Boxer AFVs.

"Brexit is the dumbest thing
Britain has done in my lifetime
.. For me and for many other
Britons, this is an absolute
tragedy .. Brexit destroys the
work of a generation that has
brought Europe together."
Brian May

When the country falls into
chaos, patriotism is born.
Tao Te Ching

"Oprah Winfrey would make
an absolutely brilliant president.
If she declares, I will back her." Steven Spielberg

Stevo Vasiljevic

Nathalie Lees


Kick Against the Pricks

Laura Kipnis

A covert system of taxation hinders female advancement in the work world. Many high-profile men have been demanding sexual homage from their female employees and others wishing entry into their fiefdoms. If sexual harassment is not about sex but about power, recent events tell us that power is a social agreement.

A former Miss America, Gretchen Carlson, started the fire. Her 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox chairman Roger Ailes netted her a $20 million settlement and an apology from Fox. After news of the lawsuit broke, thousands of women wrote to Carlson about their own experiences, and most of her book is devoted to their stories.

Miss America contestants should not be the object of sexual come-ons by sleazy PR guys. Yet Miss America contestants are there to uphold certain fantasies about femininity. One man who hit on such women was Donald Trump, who boasted of barging into dressing rooms in the Miss Teen USA contest to gape at unclothed teenage girls.

Women are meant to feel shame at this treatment. They get to be the dumping ground for every form of male weakness and self-loathing that can be offloaded onto them. The convenience of misogyny is that men are spared from hating themselves because they have women to hate instead.

Learning about other humans acting so robotically presents a conceptual difficulty. There is a weirdness to possessing a sexuality, whatever your gender. We go to work and have to pretend that neither we nor our coworkers have genitals under our clothes.

2018 January 13


Mazviita Chirimuuta

Color is a puzzle in philosophy. Modern science can explain how the molecules released into the air by a sage plant stimulate my nose or how its petals reflect light and appear as they do to my eye. But the scent and the color make no showing in that explanation.

The problem of color is an ontological issue. The concern is that color perception lands us with an erroneous view of the world and that humans fall victim to a systematic illusion in perceiving external objects as colored. So colored objects are constructions or projections of the brain.

Realism about color comes in many varieties. One proposal is to identify colors with some physical property of objects. The main difficulty is in squaring this with what we know about the subjective aspects of color, like the variability of color as perceivers and contexts change.

These realist and anti-realist proposals only focus on either the objective or subjective aspects of color. An alternative position is relationist. Color points out to the world of objects, and at the same time it draws us inward to examine the perceptual subject.

Color is the property of a perceptual process. Because color cannot be reduced either to physics or to psychology, a blue sky is not inner or outer but somehow in between. This idea has implications for the understanding of conscious perceptual experience.

2018 January 12

UK Defence

Edward Lucas

Britain faces a £20 billion budget gap between what it wants and what it can afford for defence. RUSI researcher Justin Bronk sees two options:

1 Stay global and retain the ability to fight expeditionary wars beside the Americans against weaker, poorer countries. Devote the Royal Navy to protecting the two new aircraft carriers. Give up the ability to fight land wars against Russia and hope the Americans deter a military attack or turn up in time to prevent defeat.

2 Shed the global ambitions and focus on defending Europe from Russia. Keep a smaller but more heavily equipped army, most likely based in Poland. Scrap the amphibious warfare capability and slim down the Royal Marines. Let the navy deal with Russian submarines. Give the aircraft carriers to the Americans.

Focusing UK defence on Europe balances the damage done by Brexit. East Europeans and Scandinavians would be happy. The Trump administration has cast a shadow over NATO, and the Americans could leave Europe to the locals.

Any clear choice would be better than the current shambles. Another question concerns the future role that military defence should play in national security. Defence against cyber and terror threats demands a thorough reassessment.

2018 January 11

Warning on Russia

The New York Times

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have issued a report that offers a comprehensive public accounting of Russia's war on the West.

The 2016 election, which every US intelligence agency has said involved Russian interference to help elect Donald Trump, is part of a pattern in which President Vladimir Putin has worked to erode Western institutions and undermine faith in democracy.

President Trump refuses to acknowledge that Russia poses a security threat. Republicans in Congress have expressed more concern about those who revealed Russian meddling than about the meddling.

The report says the Kremlin has increased spending on propaganda and on groups and political parties opposed to the EU and NATO, enlisted organized crime groups to launder money and commit other crimes, and used its control of energy supplies to spread corruption.

Russia used cyberwarfare, disinformation, and military force in Georgia and Ukraine, has undermined Serbian efforts to integrate with the West, has weakened democracy in Hungary and Bulgaria, and is spreading its reach into Mexico and the Mideast.

The president has denied Russian meddling and refused to criticize Putin. The report was produced without Republican input.

The Spitler Burst

Katia Moskvitch

On Christmas Eve 2016 at Arecibo Observatory, an extremely powerful repeating fast radio burst (FRB) from a source 3 billion light years away said hello.

The burst is now called FRB 121102 or the Spitler burst. In the following weeks, Arecibo registered 15 more bursts from this source. The object creating the bursts must be in an extreme cosmic neighborhood, such as near a black hole with a mass of more than 10 kilosuns.

The burst helps to strengthen the theory that at least some FRBs might be produced by magnetars. A magnetic field near the source has twisted its radio waves, an effect known as Faraday rotation, in this case so extreme that the repeating FRB is in an extreme environment. We need more data.

Asymptotic Safety

Sabine Hossenfelder

Gravity has no quantum theory. In quantum theories, all interactions depend on the energy at which they take place. This is quantified by calculating how the parameters depend on energy.

A theory that is well behaved at high energies is asymptotically free. For quantum gravity to work, we must be able to describe the theory at high energies using only a finite number of parameters, and none of the parameters should become infinite. This asymptotic safety provides a link between testable low energies and inaccessible high energies.

2018 January 10

Sexual Freedom

Catherine Deneuve et al.

The Weinstein affair has raised awareness of sexual violence against women, particularly in the workplace, where some men abuse their power. This was necessary. But this liberation of speech has turned today into its opposite.

Puritans cite the protection of women and their emancipation to help condemn them to the status of eternal victims, poor little things under the influence of demon phallocrats.

The #metoo campaign has led to public denunciation and punishment of men who, without being given the opportunity to respond or defend themselves, were put on the same level as sex offenders. The men may have touched a knee, tried to steal a kiss, talked about sex at work, or sent sexually explicit messages to a woman.

This fever to send "pigs" to slaughter, far from helping women to empower themselves, actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom and those who have their own agenda regarding good and morality.

2018 January 9


FT View

A positive outcome to the next phase of Brexit talks is by no means guaranteed. For now, the accent must be on making the best of what will be economically inferior to EU membership. That means keeping the UK as close to Europe as possible.

Forever England

Robert Winder

The negotiations over UK relations with Europe, the controversy surrounding the border in Ireland, and the continuing power of Scottish national sentiment are obliging the English to think harder than usual about who they are and what they want.

For the past three centuries, their national identity has been folded into their role as the senior power in the British federation, so they have rarely needed to question their place in the world. But thanks to Brexit, the English national identity is undergoing a fast and furious overhaul.

A country that was once a byword for steady imperturbability has suddenly revealed itself to be fractious, impulsive, and jittery. A land of fair play and cautious pragmatism has become moody and quarrelsome. The idea that the English are strong and stable has lost all credibility.

England today feels like a country that has fallen out of love with itself. The English might become the drivers of a new golden age for a new global Britain. Or they might awake from the Brexit fever, gape in amazement, and wonder how such folly came to pass.

Churchill in 1940

Paul Mason

Winston Churchill was on the wrong side of history and of statecraft for most of his political career. His triumph of May 1940 makes for a cracking yarn. But few people today understand what was at stake during the Dunkirk crisis, because so few retellings of the story confront its class dimension.

Class divisions and antagonisms were enormous in the Britain of 1940. The scale of elite collusion in the effort to appease Hitler and the scale of the unfolding military disaster were unknown to most members of the public. When tens of thousands of troops returned, defeated, stories circulated that the officers at Dunkirk had fled, leaving ordinary soldiers in the lurch.

Churchill chose to fight, both to defend the empire and to prevent British politics from exploding. To sell a peace to the public, the establishment would have deployed the media, monarchy, and civil service, but Labour leaders might have stoked a revolution. Churchill understood this.

AR Unite against an external enemy — stave off class war.




The 50th Mersenne prime is
2^77232917 − 1. Written out
in decimal notation it has
23249425 digits.

Fire and Fury
Inside the Trump
White House
Michael Wolff

Frauenkirche, Dresden

Trump year 1

Year of the Golden Dog



Russia vs NATO

Riho Terras

Estonian defense forces are establishing a cyber command. Conscription allows us to utilize the skills and knowledge of our brightest young specialists. A voluntary organization keep the cyber defense capabilities up to date.

The Russian speaking minority is strongly represented throughout the Estonian defense forces. Allied troops are here in Estonia too, to defend NATO. Their presence is an important sign of NATO unity and resolve.

2018 January 8

Golden Globes 2018

Oprah Winfrey

Insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. The story transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.

We all have lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.

In my career, I have always tried my best to say something about how men and women really behave: to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. A new day is on the horizon when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again.

2018 January 7

Darkest Hour

Andrew Rawnsley

This is a movie about May 1940 and the first three weeks of Winston Churchill's premiership. Every prime minister since has known that they will never match his place in history. There is no one like Churchill among contemporary political leaders on either side of the Atlantic.

Darkest Hour pivots around three of Churchill's finest speeches: his debut to parliament as prime minister, his first radio address to a frightened nation, and another speech to MPs following the Dunkirk evacuation. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to one man's brilliance with words.

How painful it is to contrast what was at stake in 1940, when there was a genuine danger of Britain becoming a vassal state of Nazism, with the phoney and petty furies that foam around many of the arguments related to Brexit.

In 1940, much of the British military thought invasion highly likely and defeat unavoidable. This made Churchill's determination to fight on all the braver. He did not follow public opinion — he led it.

2018 January 6

My Year Inside Trump White House

Michael Wolff

I interviewed Donald Trump for The Hollywood Reporter in June 2016. He seemed to have liked the piece I wrote, and his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around in the White House, day after day.

The surreal sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him, the ultimate enigma. He had been elected president, but he seemed as confused as anyone to find himself in the White House.

Trump was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he would regularly declaim. As the first year wound down, Trump finally got a bill to sign. The tax bill was quite a reversal of his populist promises. Mitch McConnell: "He'll sign anything we put in front of him."

2018 January 5

Brexit — Demand Dialog

Tony Blair

I want Britain to stay in the European Union. No one disputes the 2016 vote, or if it stands we will leave. The issue is whether we have the right to change our mind.

When we voted in 2016, we knew we were voting against our present membership of the EU, but not what the future relationship would be. It was like having a general election in which the question is: "Do you like the government?" If that were the question, few incumbent governments would be re-elected.

The options in approaching the Brexit negotiation:
1 To rethink and stay, best done in a reformed Europe, where we use the Brexit vote as leverage to achieve reform.
2 To exit the political structures of the EU but stay in the single market and customs union.
3 To exit both the political and the economic structures of the EU but try to negotiate a bespoke deal that recreates the existing economic benefits and keeps us close to Europe politically.
4 To exit both structures, to make a virtue of leaving and negotiate a basic free trade agreement.

All the last three options are Brexit. The government has ruled out option 2 and is seeking to negotiate option 3, but a substantial part of the Tory Party is prepared to go for option 4. The problem with option 3 is that this is simply not negotiable without major concessions which make a mockery of the case for leaving. The problem with option 4 is that it would involve significant economic pain as we adjust our economy to the new terms of trade.

Northern Ireland is a metaphor for the central dilemma of this negotiation: we are either in the single market and customs union or we will have a hard border and hard Brexit. It is the difference between the status of Norway and that of Canada. The nearer the Norway option, the more the obligations; the nearer the Canada option, the less the access.

The dilemma flows naturally from the fact that the single market is a unique trading area with a single system of regulation and a single system of arbitration. And the risk is that we end up with the worst of all worlds. We muddle along, trying to leave without really leaving, with a patchwork of arrangements that only mean we have lost our seat at the table.

Demand that we know the full details of the new relationship before we quit the old one. Brexit is not and never was the answer. Open up a dialog with European leaders about reforming Europe.

2018 January 4

Fire and Fury

The New York Times

President Trump said his onetime chief strategist Stephen Bannon had "lost his mind" after Bannon was quoted asserting that Donald Trump Jr had been "treasonous" in meeting with Russians and calling Ivanka Trump "dumb as a brick" in Fire and Fury.

White House statement: "Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books."

Bannon in Fire and Fury: "The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."

An unnamed White House aide in Fire and Fury: "It's worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won't read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the book trashy tabloid fiction.

2018 January 3

Germany and America

Anna Sauerbrey

Germany and the United States remain close business partners. This will continue despite the failure to establish a transatlantic trade deal and the shifting orientation of both economies toward China. Militarily, Germany and Europe depend on the United States and its nuclear umbrella.

Germany is an aspiring power that lacks both the public support and the strategic culture to act more assertively. The debate over where German-American relations are headed is also an emotional issue, a question of love and dependence and letting go. Many Germans still look fondly to America, whoever is president.

A new voice of anti-Americanism says America has overstayed its welcome on the world stage. America still insists on dominating the world both culturally and politically, but its culture is superficial and phony, its citizens hypocritical and uneducated. Such anti-Americanism lurks behind the current debate.

Germany is faced with a new global environment that seems to demand radical change. But as a world player, Germany can act only through Europe, inhibited by the other 26 EU states. A strategic shift remains fantasy.

Populism in Europe

Daniel Finkelstein

Lord Adonis resigned his government position and pledged to fight to prevent Brexit. His argument is that Brexit is an act of self-mutilation and I rather agree. But we both made that point before the referendum and we did not manage to muster a majority.

The political establishment might be able to stop Brexit. But the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge. Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public wave of support, millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment.

Adonis seems to assume that with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, populism crested. The stupidity of voting for dumb populist ideas has become so obvious that even the idiots responsible are beginning to get it. Now the political establishment needs to step in to save them from the consequences of their earlier folly.

But the data shows that the rise of populism carries on. I share his desire to persuade people that open markets underpinned by international cooperation and a strong welfare state offer mankind its best hope. But starting that campaign with an effort to stop Brexit, however tempting, is a calamitous misjudgment.

AR A more calamitous misjudgment than an effort to stop Brexit would be to proceed with it on the basis of a flawed snapshot of the presumed will of the people within an island monarchy when the main effect of Brexit will be to sour relations with continental neighbours upon whom the continued peace and prosperity of the island people depend.

Parliamentary delegates in the UK might reflect that the data on populism around Europe suggests a rising tide of raw emotion that if left unchecked could end as badly as the rising tide of patriotism that led to calamity in 1914. It is not the duty of parliamentarians to persist in obvious folly merely because years earlier their voters chose under the evident sway of dislike of immigration and feelings of national pride to vote for that folly.

2018 January 2

Brexit — Madness

Jon Danzig

The UK government is negotiating to leave the EU, just so they can negotiate another arrangement with the EU to give the UK as much as possible of what it already has, but on inferior terms.

The EU is the world's largest free trade area. As a member, the UK receives benefits worth far more than the net annual membership fee of £7.1 billion a year. As a member, the UK enjoys free, frictionless trade with its biggest trading partner by far, where almost half of its exports go to and over half of its imports come from.

The UK government is desperate to continue to enjoy similar membership benefits of frictionless trade with the EU after it have ended UK membership, because they know that the economy depends on it. Britain needs frictionless trade with the EU. It needs free movement of goods, services, capital, and people for the country to thrive.

Britain will pay around £50 billion to try and achieve what it already has, but less of it, and on considerably inferior terms. This is utter madness. There are no good reasons to leave.

Luther and Germany

Georg Diez

Martin Luther was a deeply conservative person with strong authoritarian tendencies. He wanted to reinstate the power of God over human freedom. He had the moral certitude of an angry young man combined with the mindset of a religious fanatic.

His anger needed enemies, conspiracy, and a higher order of good and bad. He argued against the elites in the name of the people to lead a populist uprising. The revolt he initiated in Germany set the stage for a reconstruction of oppressive regimes in the name of God.

He saw devils all around — the Pope, the peasants, the Turks, the Jews: "Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel."

Luther led a revolt in the name of the order of God. His words and deeds could justify calling him a terrorist. But he constructed a national German identity that was connected to Christianity.


David Brooks

The crooked timber school of humanity says the line between good and evil runs through each person and we fight injustice on the basis of our common humanity. The oppressor/oppressed morality says the line runs between tribes. That makes it easy to feel good about yourself. But it makes you very hard to live with.

2018 January 1

American Disaster

James Mann

Donald Trump's first year in the White House has been much more damaging to the nation than that of any other president in modern times:

The sweeping tax bill that was rammed through Congress gives a huge tax cut to corporations and to wealthy individuals, will add roughly $1 trillion over the next ten years to the federal deficit, and will widen further the already huge gulf between the very wealthy and the rest of America.

Trump said he was going to do away with the Affordable Care Act (but it remains on the books).

He ordered a wall to be built along the Mexican border (but it is not close to being built).

He has done lasting harm to the federal judiciary and to the lower courts.

Across a range of environmental and regulatory agencies, he has appointed officials with a record of hostility to the idea that the federal government operates for the benefit of the public.

With the rest of the world, Trump has destroyed many of the understandings, agreements, and relationships that have served as the foundation for US foreign policy for half a century or more.

He announced that the United States would withdraw from the TPP, helping China in its ambitions to become the leading power in the region.

He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

He withdrew the United States from the Paris accord on climate change.

He became the first US president to waver on American commitment to NATO.

He ordered a renegotiation of NAFTA.

He regularly suggests that America is paying too much for its alliances and agreements, and that other countries are not paying enough.

Against North Korea, Trump taunted Kim Jong-un, calling him Little Rocket Man and threatening to totally destroy his country.

He put a corporate hatchet man in the State Department to cut the staff.

Trump's America First foreign policy has caused huge damage in the realm of ideas.

He has attacked the rule of law, notions of political and racial tolerance, national unity, the freedom of the press, civil discourse, and even truth itself.

He has abandoned the notion of civil discourse by refusing to accord his political opponents even a minimum level of respect.

He has undermined the rule of law and the principles of democracy by calling for the investigation and prosecution of his political adversaries.

He has shown no willingness to respect the independent press as a restraint and watchdog on government.

He has given presidential validation to racism and nativism, along with hostility toward education, science, and professionalism.

The damage he is causing is piling up week by week. The longer he stays, the worse it will get.

New Year Message

Moon Jae-in

We all have prevailed well over many difficulties in the past year. The country achieved the milestone of $1 trillion in trade once again and regained annual economic growth of over 3%. These accomplishments were made in the face of political turmoil and security challenges.

As President of the Republic of Korea, I would like to express my profound respect and appreciation to each and every one of you.

Spacetime Wormholes and Quantum Teleportation

Natalie Wolchover

The idea that things falling into black holes vanish without trace violates quantum mechanics. But the idea that black holes are empty shells with hot firewalls violates general relativity.

Perhaps quangled black holes A and B forming the two mouths of a wormhole can generate repulsive negative energy to keep the throat open, so stuff tossed into A can worm through and pop out of B. This amounts to quantum teleportation.

The ER = EPR conjecture that wormhole-linked points in spacetime are equivalent to quangled pairs suggests space is stitched into existence by entanglement. Maybe wormholes let quangled bits escape as Hawking radiation.

If so, then black holes have no firewalls, unitarity is preserved, and the interior and exterior of a black hole are two complementary ways of looking at the same system.

AR Fond rehash of a fun can of worms — blog 2017-11-08.

BLOG 2017
SpaceX launch, California, December 22

Iran vs America
Dorsa Derakhshani

Chess is a game I love. From
2011 to 2015, I played for the
Iranian national team. But time
and time again, those in charge
of the team showed that they
cared more about the scarf
covering my hair than the
brain under it.

The Iranian chess federation
has barred me from playing in
Iran for not wearing a hijab in
2017. I have joined the United
States Chess Federation and
started school at St Louis
University. I am applying
for US citizenship.

Nick Clegg
New Year Honour:
Sir Nick Clegg

The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden
Kim Min-Hee and Kim Tae-Ri

AR Korean handmaiden and
Japanese lady find love and
foil bad men — fun plot,
sex well done.



2017 December 31

No God But God

Reza Aslan

AR Reza Aslan is a good writer and a good historian of religion. His 2013 book Zealot on Jesus was excellent, so I had high hopes for this 2011 book on Islam. Many hopes were indeed fulfilled: the historical timeline is clear, the known facts are in place, the conjectures are properly flagged, the context for contemporaries and believers is sketched credibly, and the final result is easy and pleasant to read.

Any historian of Islam will be confronted with controversy and compelled to take sides. Aslan takes the side of the Sufis, a relatively gentle and reflective tradition in Islam with mystic leanings, which grew up in the shade of the Shia branch of the Mohammedan faith in lands that had rich and deep traditions of belief and philosophy. In doing so, he distances himself from the Sunni branch and those of its variants such as Wahhabism that have attracted Western anger in recent years.

What Aslan does not do, and what diminishes his book for me, is stand back far enough from the entire tradition of veneration for the revelations of the Prophet, and their expression in the series of texts that form the Quran, to see the wood for the trees. Even today, no pious Muslim would dare regard the revelations or their canonical expression as anything but holy, but for a modern Westerner with some respect for science and rational thinking the leap of imagination required to take such affirmed holiness at face value is just too great. This reader at least is driven to taking a remote anthropological stance on the Arab and related societies of a thousand plus or minus a few hundred years ago and regarding their strange belief system as shot through with hardly less nonsense than any other ancient myth or curious narrative.

Despite his Muslim roots, Aslan is a modern Western writer, so he must must see the need to keep such rational readers on board, even if in the end he parts company with them in continuing to venerate his holy relics. There may be a learning curve here, for he does a fine job in standing back from Christian or other pieties in discussing Jesus in his later book Zealot; perhaps it is easier to stand back from a faith one feels no residual need to defend or believe in. Modern societies with Christian or Muslim roots are surely robust enough to rise above superstitious awe in face of alleged revelations and the purportedly holy texts that spring from them, or at any rate we can only hope so, if we are to avoid a new clash of civilizations.

Like Aslan, I have some sympathy for the Sufi thread in the story of Islam, and feel some distaste for the hardened institutional forms of the Muslim faith, which like their Christian equivalents have led to serial disasters in the societies swayed by them. Unlike him, however, I see little hope for a revival of Sufism in the Muslim world and indeed little hope of sufficient reform within Islam to accommodate it to the constraints of life in an age of global connectivity, robots, and nuclear weapons. Only a clean separation of secular life, including politics, from the inner life of religion can enable us to regulate the modern world, it seems to me, and even a revived Sufism would be of no obvious help in doing so.

In summary, then, a modern history of Islam, especially one that like this volume takes us up to contemporary political issues surrounding the ongoing wars in Muslim majority societies, can only work for Western readers if it rises above a partisan perspective. As it is, Aslan seems to feel sympathy for the victim narrative that Western imperialists have cruelly exploited the Muslim world, which must therefore rise up and restore its fortunes by defeating the infidels. This cuts no ice with me, even in the context of a volume of history that otherwise deserves some praise.

Religion vs Atheists

Alexandra Köhler

The Egyptian parliament is drafting a bill to criminalize atheists. MP Mustafa Bakri: "The spread of atheism is an expression of decadence and lack of faith and threatens the whole of society."

A 2014 study put the number of atheists in Egypt at 886. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi faces elections in 2018 and plans to take a stand against atheism and homosexuality.

2017 December 30

Brexit — Populist Spasm

Lord Adonis

The European Union Withdrawal Bill is the worst legislation of my lifetime. It arrives soon in the House of Lords and I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly.

Brexit is a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump. After the narrow referendum vote for an undefined proposition to leave the EU, it could have been attempted without rupturing our essential European trade and political relations.

Britain needs to be deeply engaged, responsible and consistent in its European policy. When we have failed to be so in the past, the security and prosperity of our continent have been in jeopardy.

For Her Majesty's Government, there is no such thing as splendid isolation. When Lord Salisbury pronounced this as British policy in the imperial late-Victorian era, it was followed within barely a decade by the First World War and what was, in effect, a 30-year European war between the forces of democracy on the one hand, and Communism and extreme nationalism on the other.

The stakes may not appear so high as this at the moment, but no-one observing Putin's Russia, and the rise of authoritarian nationalism in Poland and Hungary, can doubt the resonances with the past or the dangers ahead.

AR Perhaps the ship of state is beginning to turn away from the iceberg.

2017 December 29

Many Worlds and Black Holes

Anil Ananthaswamy

A black hole either destroys information, violating quantum mechanics, or is surrounded by a blazing  firewall, violating general relativity. Sean Carroll says the paradox disappears when the evolution of black holes is understood via the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

The quantum state of the universe is described by the global wave function. Whenever there are many possible outcomes for a physical process, the wave function in the many worlds interpretation branches, with one branch for each outcome. Once the branches cease to interact, they evolve as separate worlds — and so do the observers in the worlds.

For such an observer, spacetime behaves as in general relativity and the black hole has no firewall. Conservation of information applies to the global wave function and not to its individual branches. The evolution of the wave function is unitary and there is no global loss of information.


John Wenz

Simulations of the formation of planetary systems show what happens to moons as their planets are still forming. Planets are born in turbulent clouds of rocks, where they are jostled around violently. They frequently collide with neighboring rocks and dislodge any early moons orbiting them.

Most planets shed their primordial moons. The moons that orbit close in stay, but those further out can come loose. They can remain bound to their home stars as new planets, but most are flung out into interstellar space. There could be many more stray moons than stars in the Milky Way.


Edward Lucas

On leadership of Europe, France is weaker than Germany but more ambitious. France will accept German leadership on federalising the eurozone but wants Germany to pay the bill. Germany, still lacking a government since the September election, has no answer.

German politicians are unwilling to tell their voters that European security means dealing with Russia, which instigates conflicts abroad to distract from stagnation and failure at home. German public opinion loathes the idea of confronting the Kremlin. Germans also flinch from confronting authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary.

Germany aims to make Russia its main energy supplier with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. Germany feels guilty toward Russia because of WW2 but seems not to notice the way Russia treats Ukraine. Germany needs a new Ostpolitik.

AR I think Lucas fails to understand Germany in the rest of his source text.

2017 December 28

Brexit — Suicide

Anatole Kaletsky

UK 2017 was like a suicide who jumps off a tall building and says as he falls: "So far, so good!"

British prime minister Theresa May agreed to all the EU demands: €50 billion of budget payments, ECJ jurisdiction over the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and an open border with Ireland.

Both scenarios usually proposed for the UK relationship with the EU can now be dismissed. Given the agreement, a hard Brexit is no longer possible. Without cherry-picking, a soft Brexit is equally impossible.

A fake Brexit, similar to the Norway deal, would retain many current UK privileges, in exchange for complying with EU rules and regulations, including free movement of labor, contributing to the EU budget, and accepting the jurisdiction of EU law. Such a deal would carry a huge political cost. In Johnsonian language, Britain would be reduced to a vassal state of the EU.

This status is what the UK has already requested for a transition period up to the end of 2020. There is almost no chance of Britain ever negotiating the deep and special partnership May has promised. EU leaders will not let the UK have cake and eat it.

The only way out of the fake Brexit deadlock is a further transition — how the Norway deal began. This is the dreaded Hotel California scenario.

That leaves just one alternative: no Brexit. Meanwhile, the suicide jumper is still falling.

AR The UK must learn to love the EU and live, not loathe it and die.

Brexit — Tragedy

Imke Henkel

Brexit minister David Davis has proved to be a bumbler. He scorned the progress that Theresa May made weeks ago with a sketchy deal that lets the UK move on with the talks. Just a declaration of intent, Davis said, until days later he had to retract.

The UK is stuck. If it wants to leave the EU without major economic damage, it must remain in the single market. But if it stays in the single market, it will not be sovereign and will have to comply with all the EU rules that Brexiteers wanted to shake off.

Eager to please voters, May tells them they can both have cake and eat it. Her stubborn denial of reality shows how toxic Brexit has become. Angry rejection of the EU by a few Brexiteers has gradually infected the entire Conservative party.

Nostalgia for empire set British nationalists against the EU. They refused to settle in the European family of nations. In recent decades, the British economy relied increasingly on its financial sector and debt-fueled consumption — until the 2008 crash.

Politics is a victim of this mess. Before the referendum, over three-quarters of MPs pledged to vote for remaining in the EU. Nine months later, over three-quarters voted to trigger Brexit. They misrepresented a narrow popular vote as a landslide.

AR The tragedy stems from the winner-take-all voting system.

2017 December 27


Umair Haque

Civilization is a process in which you plus me is  better than you minus me. A society reduced to you versus me or you minus me  is broken. Soon or later, because it cannot invest in public goods, it will begin to fail.

America today is a place where regress has been normalized. Americans live lives of impossible vulnerability, struggling to survive by pulling down the next person. US society winnows out the weak and rewards the strong, adopting the principle you minus me, or you versus me.

You plus me is the harder choice. It requires humility, courage, wisdom, grace, and taming our lower selves. Although it is easier to believe someone different from you is lazy and subhuman, accepting you plus me pays off a greater sum in the end, not only materially but also morally.

Civilization makes progress when we choose the path of you plus me. The question is whether we keep expanding the boundaries of what it means to be civilized — or follow America to the edge of the abyss.

AR I had to work on this one:
Choose not US but EU plus me!


Idealized European Union with equipopulous member states
European Parliament representation needs such constituencies,
not only to ensure proportionality but also to loosen state ties.

No Poles
A fishery in Oxfordshire



Japan passes ¥5.19 trillion
2018 defense budget to
counter Nork threat


UK immigration minister
Brandon Lewis: "Leaving the EU
gives us a unique opportunity
to restore our national identity
.. I am delighted to announce
that the British passport will
be returning to the iconic blue
and gold design after we have
 left the EU in 2019."

AR Rule Britannia, by jingo!

Boeing Defense
Boeing MQ25 UAS US Navy
drone tanker will refuel
navy combat aircraft

UK deputy prime minister
Damian Green sacked
over computer porn

Matthieu Ricard

The most fundamental aspect
of mind is luminous awareness.

Meditators can distinguish
clearly between pleasant and
aversive stimuli, but they
react much less emotionally
than control subjects.

Trained meditators acquire the
faculty to maintain an overall
emotional balance that favors
inner strength and peace.

Costica Bradatan

Philosophy has never only
been about rational

No sooner do you start philosophizing than you
begin crafting a piece
of literature.

EZ Horizon

European expertise in STEM
creates an opportunity for
EZ growth — the Internet of
Things. The EU challenge is
to steer public policy and
regulation via its €80 billion
R&D program Horizon 2020.


Juan Maldacena
(YouTube, 15 min)


2017 Boxing Day

Six Minutes in May

Nicholas Shakespeare

AR Nicolas Shakespeare has written a history that reads like a novel. By turning his entire tale around the six minutes of a parliamentary division on the evening of May 8, 1940, he gives the story of how Winston Churchill took over as British prime minister from Neville Chamberlain a dramatic twist. He sees the division as the watershed moment after eight months of war between Britain and Germany, when the island nation determined at last to pull itself together and fight the foe in earnest by putting Winston the imperial warhorse at the head of the charge.

The catalyst for this act of parliamentary resolve was the Norway debate that led to the division. The debate in the House of Commons was a first attempt to address the governmental weaknesses revealed by a catastrophically bungled British campaign against the German invasion of Norway. The debate, although its exchanges sound to a modern ear as dry and constricted by parliamentary protocol as any war of words in the imperial sounding box, laid bare a campaign so incompetent and confused as to beggar belief.

Shakespeare does not shy from pointing out how Churchill himself, as First Lord of the Admiralty and the leading champion of both the strategy and the execution of the Norway campaign, bore as damning a share of responsibility for the debacle as he had for the comparably bungled Gallipoli campaign in 1915, when he had also been First Lord of the Admiralty. The 1915 disaster led to his disgrace and humiliation, but amazingly he survived in 1940. Somehow, the blame for the mess was shifted to Chamberlain, whose restrained and uncharismatic performance as prime minister seemed to threaten further dismay if not swiftly addressed.

In the usual telling of this tale, the more decisive watershed came on the day after the division, when the foreign secretary Lord Halifax, who had been seen on all sides until then as the heir apparent for the top job, revealed he had no stomach for the task of waging war and essentially handed the vacancy to Churchill. As a novelist, Shakespeare obviously takes delight in reconstructing in damning detail the open secret of the intense romance between Halifax and Lady Alexandra Metcalfe (Baba to her friends) that amply explains the impossibility of Halifax ever achieving glory as a warrior against so implacable a foe as Adolf Hitler. After that writerly indulgence, Shakespeare says simply that Halifax, whose former role as Viceroy of India had obviously spoiled him for a lesser life in 10 Downing Street, had the decency to defer gracefully to his old friend Winston.

A sceptical reader might hazard a guess as to why Shakespeare turns his tale on the Norway division, namely that his relative Geoffrey Shakespeare was a minister in the Chamberlain government and played a significant role in the course of the Norway debate, whereas he played no such role in the dealings with Halifax. This personal interest encourages Shakespeare the historian to wax eloquent on the appalling incompetence of the British conduct of the Norway campaign and thus to air a chapter in the history of the war that was too gratefully forgotten in Britain when Churchill began to fulminate against the Nazis and to get a grip on the British war effort. Today, when the historical mind glides easily from the defeats in Poland and France to the victories in the Mediterranean theatre and in Normandy, we do well to recall these finer details.

Altogether, Shakespeare has done a fine job of historical reconstruction here. The book is big and well furnished with the scholarly apparatus that will earn it a respected place on historical bookshelves, yet still spiced with the novelistic dash that makes the enterprise come alive. For my taste, the book is overloaded with trivial detail and lamed by excessive respect for the preposterous paraphernalia of British parliamentary procedure and tradition, so I refuse to praise the work unreservedly, but for all practical purposes, in a crowded marketplace, the book is a triumph.

2017 Christmas Day

Christmas Threatened by Islamization?

Thomas Straubhaar

Many Germans think Christmas is threatened by the Islamization of the West. But at the end of 2015, between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims lived in Germany, alongside about 23.8 million Catholics and 22.3 million Protestants. Three points:

1 It is not new that a majority overestimates the significance of minorities. World history offers too many examples of how small groups of people of other faiths were persecuted and murdered.

2 Foreigners are often instrumentalized by domestic interest groups. Religious minorities offer an easy way to personalize complex challenges and make them seem real. Again, this is not new.

3 For religious minorities, the perceived change seems more of a threat than the number. The media often devote more attention to the new and the unknown minorities than to familiar ones.

Christmas is endangered not by Muslims but by the dwindling role of Christianity.


Die Zeit

Since November 2015, the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has governed Poland. The party has an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament. It has pushed through laws to influence the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the State Justice Council in Poland as part of a judicial reform. Critics fear for the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The European Commission has initiated proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty to examine whether Poland adheres to all democratic and constitutional principles. Voting rights can be withdrawn as a sanction. The Commission has also brought lawsuits against Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the European Court of Justice for refusing to accept refugees.

A Europe of Values

Heinrich August Winkler

The European Union requires that member states guarantee democratic and constitutional order, respect for human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.

In 2010, Viktor Orbán became prime minister in Hungary for the second time. Since then, he has acted to limit the powers of the Constitutional Court and the independence of the judiciary.

Since 2015, when his PiS party won power in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński has worked closely with Orbán. His attack on the foundations of the constitutional state has provoked the European Commission to start legal proceedings against Poland.

The European project is now in crisis. Its renewal must begin with the salvation of its normative foundations.

The European Parliament cannot easily represent all EU citizens. A parliament that gave all member states real representation would be too big, so Malta and Luxembourg are over-represented and Germany and France are underrepresented. The parliament cannot claim the same democratic legitimacy as the Bundestag or the French National Assembly.

Perhaps half of the Members of the European Parliament could be elected through transnational party lists. A European party system would generalize social interests and bring them to bear beyond national borders. But this would still lead to alienation from a perceived elite.

European national parliaments have a special responsibility for integration with regard to Europe. Without the participation of the national parliaments, European decision making is insufficiently democratic. Europe needs a normative core for the European project to succeed.

AR Christian norms?

2017 Christmas Eve

The Quran

Lesley Hazleton

The Quran is haunted by the desert. Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of water. Heaven is the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters. Allah speaks a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the syllables. The overall tenor of the Quran is one of mercy and forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.

No God But God
Reza Aslan

Ibn al-Arabi (1165—1240 CE) reformulated the traditional Muslim profession of faith as: There is no being other than the being of God; There is no reality other than the reality of God.

For al-Arabi, the Quranic statement that God created humanity from a single soul means the universe itself is a single being. Men who have realized their essential oneness with the divine being become perfect or universal men. The perfect man is the mirror in which the divine attributes are perfectly reflected, or the medium through which God is made manifest.

For Sufis, the paradigm of the perfect man is the Prophet Muhammad. They see Muhammad as many Christian Gnostics saw Jesus, as the eternal logos, as the light shining in darkness.

So the relationship between God and Muhammad is like that between the Sun and the Moon: The Sun is powerful and creative; The Moon is beautiful and responsive.

AR Glorious poetry


Pawel Pawlikowski (dir.)

AR Beautiful movie

2017 December 23

Decadent America

James Traub

Donald Trump has legitimized the language of selfishness. During the campaign, he boasted about the gimmicks he had deployed to avoid paying taxes. There is no purer example of the politics of decadence than the tax legislation he has signed:

1 The cuts blatantly benefit the president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum tax and the special treatment of real estate income. Americans hardly even notice the mockery this implies of the public servant's dedication to public good.

2 The cuts have been targeted to help Republican voters and hurt Democrats, above all through the abolition or sharp reduction of the deductibility of state and local taxes. The cuts are the economic equivalent of gerrymandering.

3 The cuts will not begin to pay for themselves. The White House and congressional leaders simply dismiss the forecasts as too gloomy. Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.

A democratic society becomes decadent when its politics becomes morally and intellectually corrupt. New here is the sheer blitheness of the contempt for the public good. Worship of the marketplace and elevation of selfishness to a public virtue — this is America First.


Ronnie de Sousa

Evolutionary biology supports existentialism. Practical moral claims presuppose the values of life, health and happiness, but the fact that something is desired does not prove it should be. One idea is that our desires stem from our authentic human nature.

The doctrine of natural law is slippery. Law seems to refer to descriptive generalizations about what happens, but the meaning is closer to that of legislation. Laws of the first sort cannot be broken, laws of the second sort are wishes.

We imagine nature sometimes makes mistakes. Organs that fail to perform normally or organisms so different they are unable to thrive used to be called freaks of nature. But in light of evolution, we are the descendants of millions of freaks.

Natural law theory cannot tell us what goals to pursue. Evolution has programmed us to be selfish and cruel, so naturalness is no reason to value what we care about. Beyond a few basic biological needs, there seems to be no limit to what humans can desire.

Variety and diversity are fundamental conditions for evolution. The human invention of language generated an explosion of possibilities. For humans, existence precedes essence — who we are is determined by our choices.

AR Facts shape our choices — contra existentialism.

2017 December 22

Theory of Everything

Natalie Wolchover

Any TOE must fit gravity into the quantum theory so that gravitons behave collectively like curved spacetime. String theory posits that gravitons and other particles are tiny vibrating strings. But the five known versions of string theory are all perturbative — they break down in some regimes.

In 1995, Edward Witten discovered the mother of all string theories. He found various indications that the perturbative string theories fit together into a theory he dubbed M-theory.

In 1997, Juan Maldacena discovered the AdS/CFT correspondence, which gives a complete definition of M-theory for the special case of AdS spacetime geometries. For such imaginary worlds, physicists can describe processes at all energies, including black hole formation and evaporation.

M-theory is the leading TOE candidate. But its strings and the compactified spatial dimensions that they wriggle in are 10^15 times smaller than our experiments can resolve. And some macroscopic signatures of the theory, such as cosmic strings and supersymmetry, have not shown up.

Brexit — Departmental Disarray

Jon Stone

UK secretary of state David Davis presides over the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) with about 600 employees. But there is funding for an additional 143, and 44% of the staff plan to leave within the next year. Around 9% of them are leaving every quarter, 4 times the civil service average and the highest in Whitehall, except for the Cabinet Office.

Brexit — Impact Reports

Oliver Wright

MPs were left wondering why they bothered after 39 DExEU sectoral reports were finally placed in the public domain. The Commons Brexit select committee published them following weeks of wrangling with the government.

The reports offer the insights that all sectors of the economy rely on electricity, that Boeing and Airbus manufacture aircraft, that postal services are visible and valued by members of the public and businesses, and that space is a global industry.

DExEU spokesman: "Our analysis is not, nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of the UK's exit on the 58 sectors. We are undertaking a comprehensive programme of analytical work."

Brexit — Second Referendum

Gina Miller

I have long believed that referendums diminish democracies rather than empower them. In the UK, our representative system allows us to avoid them. We elect and pay our MPs to act on our behalf.

In most countries, if referendums are to be binding, they are held with a supermajority requirement. In the House of Commons, a two-thirds majority is required for a general election to be called outside the fixed term of a parliament. These supermajorities are an acknowledgment that a simple majority is not enough to license significant societal change, and to ensure legitimacy.

But as with nearly everything connected with Brexit, none of this was thought through. No super­majority requirement was built in, and three groups with a material interest in the outcome — 16‑17 year olds, a large percentage of expatriates, and EU citizens working and paying tax in the UK — were not allowed to vote. Also, the poll was far too binary and bereft of detail.

Even with these negatives, I have up until now been against the idea of a second referendum. But I am coming round to the idea. A second referendum could be avoided by a general election.

2017 December 21

Tax Cuts

Jordan Weissmann

The Republican tax bill rewards wealth. It is designed to ensure that corporate shareholders and private business owners can pocket more US national income each year, before passing it onto their children, with only the flimsiest economic rationale to justify this.

The danger posed by accumulated wealth is that when the rate of return on capital assets exceeds the rate of economic growth, inequality is likely to increase. Growing inequality paves the way for moneyed interests to prevail — plutocracy.

Dry Mars

Jon Wade et al.

Water disappeared from the Martian surface soon after its formation. Although Mars was lost some water to space, the nature of its crust suggests that hydration reactions led to sequestration of the crust.

Our calculations suggest that over 9% by volume of the Martian mantle may contain hydrous mineral species as a consequence of surface reactions, compared to about 4% by volume of the Earth mantle. Martian crust is unlike terrestrial crust, which becomes denser on dehydration, so early Martian crust was buried under a lithosphere comprising a single tectonic plate, with only the warmer, lower crust involved in mantle convection.

The buried crust provided a sink for hydrospheric water. On the early Earth, the upper mantle was less hydrated and water was retained close to its surface. The water allowed the evolution of life.

Sea Dogs

Ed O'Loughlin

Joseph Conrad was feted in his lifetime as the greatest writer of English-language fiction. His most widely read novel, Heart of Darkness, is reset in the Vietnam war in the movie Apocalypse Now.

Conrad's leading characters are almost all white males, his women often little more than plot points.
All that Boy's Own stuff about courage and cowardice and honour and the sea was far removed in sensibility and time from the raw material of modern fiction.

Born in 1857 into the Polish gentry of Russian Ukraine, Conrad was orphaned as a teenager and eventually settled in England, where he rose through the ranks of the merchant marine to become a captain. Long passages on clippers to Australia, a stint on a tramp steamer sailing out of Singapore, and a hellish cruise up and down the Congo river furnished the raw experiences for his novels.

"Conrad promoted the values (as he imagined them) of the szlachta [Polish landed gentry] and the sailing ship; the dreams of the depressive who at once depended on and doubted them; and the self-critical awareness of the white man who traveled overseas and saw the limits of his own society, even if he didn't enter into the possibilities of others."
Maya Jasanoff

2017 December 20

America vs China

People's Daily Online

The new US national security strategy labels China as a rival power seeking to undermine US national interests. The "America First" policy is all about increasing competition between countries, and is based on the old way of thinking that competition rather than cooperation defines the current global environment.

The United States has not given up its hegemonic ambitions and will do everything it can do to try to ensure that world powers rise under the United States, and not with it and never above it. It is determined to try to make the global system better serve its own interests, rather than the interests of the global community.

The strategy signals a return to the dark time when zero-sum games defined world affairs. It overemphasizes the competitive dimension of international politics, and fails to lay out a road map to expand the space for cooperation. The result is likely to be counterproductive to the goal of making America great again.

The economies of China and the United States are more complementary than competitive. In 2016, the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries exceeded $550 billion, with two-way investment surpassing $200 billion. China remains committed to world peace, global development, and international order.

Putting its own national interests above the interests of the international community is selfish and will isolate the United States. America should accept the rise of China. It is high time for the United States to abandon its zero-sum mentality and work with China on a common goal of prosperity and progress for all.

China and the United States offer starkly different visions for the future of global affairs. China has laid out a vision and approach that features openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation. China is on the right side of history.

May vs Putin

Rafael Behr

Theresa May has accused the Kremlin of interference in British democracy. Vladimir Putin detests NATO and EU influence in countries that were formerly Soviet territory. Undermining that influence is his goal.

The Brexit delusion is that enslavement by Brussels inhibits a UK return to the global first division. In the EU, Britain has benefited from aggregating its middleweight power with Germany, France, and 25 other nations. That is not a Brussels empire but a model of peaceful, collaborative power without historical equal.

Brexit has already fractured an alliance that will be hard to repair. May will never be a friend of Putin, but she is committed to a policy he would choose for her anyway.

Quantum Gravity

Sabine Hossenfelder

General relativity works well when the quantum effects of spacetime are small, but when they become large we need a theory of quantum gravity. We have several candidate theories but none of them is generally accepted. Here are ten speculations:

1 In quantum gravity we expect that spacetime will fluctuate wildly even in the absence of matter. In the quantum world, the vacuum never rests, and neither do space and time.

2 Quantum spacetime could be full of microscopic black holes. It could have wormholes or give rise to baby universes, which are small bubbles that pinch off from the mother universe.

3 And since this is a quantum theory, spacetime could both create a baby universe and not create one at the same time. The fabric of spacetime may be made of discrete components that only look continuous at macroscopic scales.

4 In most approaches to quantum gravity, spacetime is made of strings, loops, qubits, or some kind of spacetime atoms. The individual constituents can only be resolved when probed with extremely high energies, far beyond what we can achieve on Earth.

5 In some of the condensed-matter based approaches, spacetime can be elastic or have viscosity. This might lead to observable consequences. We are looking for such effects by studying messenger particles that reach us from far away in the cosmos.

6 Spacetime might affect how light travels through it. It might not be entirely transparent, or light of different colors might travel at different speeds to cause dispersion. This too could be observable in future experiments.

7 Spacetime fluctuations might destroy the ability of light from distant sources to create interference patterns. This effect has been looked for and not found so far in the visible range.

8 In regions of strong curvature, time might turn into space. This could happen inside black holes or at the big bang. In such a case, what we now know as a spacetime with 3D space and 1D time might transform into 4D Euclidean space.

9 Spacetime could be nonlocally connected with tiny shortcuts spanning throughout the universe. Such nonlocal connections should exist if its underlying structure is non-geometric, like a graph or network. In such cases proximity is not fundamental but only derived, and it should be possible for very distant places to be connected by accident.

10 To combine quantum theory with gravity, we might have to update quantum theory. This might open entirely new possibilities.

2017 December 19

German Economics

Gideon Rachman

The Germans are right: Economics is — or should be — part of moral philosophy.

Successful politicians have to do more than just deliver economic growth. They also need to offer voters a vision of the economy in which virtue is rewarded and vice is punished. Since 2008, too many politicians have lost it.

Until the financial crisis, a free-market economy was held to reward effort and success and to spread opportunity. Globalization was defended as a moral project, since it involved reducing inequality and poverty across the world.

After the financial crisis, the globalists began to lose the moral arguments. The fact that banks were bailed out as living standards stagnated offended many voters. The door was opened for a populist to say the system is rigged.

The economy is not just about growth. It is also about justice.

UK Defence — F-35 Costs

The Guardian

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the most expensive projects in military history. The UK defence committee said it was unacceptable for the Ministry of Defence to keep parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.

The UK has bought 14 F-35 jets to fly from its new aircraft carriers and plans to buy a further 124. A National Audit Office report put the total UK cost of the program up to 2026 at £9.1 billion. The MoD declined to offer even a rough figure beyond 2026.

The defence committee views the MoD failure to provide cost estimates as unsatisfactory. It called on the MoD to provide biannual updates on the F-35 program, including details of progress on various identified problems.

Quantum Spacetime

Anil Ananthaswamy

In new work, ChunJun Cao and Sean Carroll suggest that spacetime and gravity could emerge from quantum entanglement.

Twenty years ago, Juan Maldacena discovered his AdS/CFT duality between a theory of gravity for a volume of space and a quantum field theory for the surface of the volume. Since then, others have shown that the area of certain surfaces within such a volume is related to the amount of quantum entanglement between different regions in it. Changing the amount of entanglement in the surface creates or destroys spacetime in the volume.

Cao and Carroll have tried to extract the kind of spacetime around us — mostly flat but with small gravitational undulations — from standard quantum mechanics.

They used a Hilbert space split into tiny parts, each one corresponding to a point in 3D space, and assumed that the closer these points are to each other, the greater the entanglement between them. They also assumed that increasing the entanglement in one region decreases it elsewhere, and vice versa. They show that the equations governing the dynamics of entanglement are similar to the equations of general relativity.

In other words, spacetime and gravity emerge from entanglement.

US National Security Strategy

The White House

Putting America first is the duty of our government and the foundation for effective US leadership in the world. Four vital national interests form the backbone of this commitment:

Protect the homeland, the American people, and the American way of life
Promote American prosperity
Preserve peace through strength
Advance American influence

This NSS is guided by a return to principled realism. The strategy acknowledges the central role of power in world affairs, affirms that sovereign states are the best hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines US national interests. It is grounded in the knowledge that promoting American values is key to spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.

Full report (68 pages)


Neuer Polizeipanzer in Leipzig: Das Monogrammsticken der Sitzrückenlehnen ist ein mit Eichenlaub umringtes
und mit stilisierten Adlerschwingen flankiertes Wappen, zusammen mit dem Frakturschriftzug
"Spezialeinsatzkommando Sachsen" — eine altbewährte Ästhetik.


Financial Times estimates
that the value of UK GDP is
now around 0.9% lower than
was possible if the UK had
voted to stay in the EU.
That equates to almost
exactly £350 million
a week lost to the
British economy.

New survey:
Remain 51%
Leave 41%

"I think the key national priority
right now is stopping Brexit.
I would put it above every-
thing else right now
for the country."
Tony Blair

"The biggest idea in human
history is probably the
European Union. The EU has
the highest standard of living
in human history. People live
longer, happier, healthier,
saner, safer, gentler lives than
anywhere else in the world ..
The biggest ideas in human
history all come from a fierce
belief in human possibility."
Umair Haque

Karl Polanyi
"To allow the market
mechanism to be the sole
director of the fate of
human beings and their
natural environment ..
would result in the
demolition of society."
Karl Polanyi


2017 December 18

Brexit — Commons Statement

Theresa May

The guidelines published by President Tusk on Friday point to the shared desire of the EU and the UK to make rapid progress on an implementation period, with formal talks beginning very soon.

During this strictly time-limited implementation period which we will now begin to negotiate, we would not be in the single market or the customs union, as we will have left the EU. But we would propose that our access to one another's markets would continue as now, while we prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin our future partnership.

During this period we intend to register new arrivals from the EU as preparation for our future immigration system. And we will prepare for our future independent trade policy by negotiating — and where possible signing — trade deals with third countries, which could come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period.

AR I fear this goes far beyond what the EU can accept.


Ferdinand Mount

Born in 1749, Johann Wolfgang Goethe became the national poet of a resurgent Germany. His collected works fill 42 volumes. A new biography by Rüdiger Safranski is billed as the first definitive biography in a generation.

Safranski portrays Goethe as a genius who was constantly reinventing himself. Goethe revolted against the austere Lutheranism of his boyhood and was a stranger to guilt. He believed nature was the only true divinity.

Goethe lived in Weimar and hero-worshiped Napoleon. After the great German defeat at nearby Jena in 1806, Goethe was impatient with people who "bewail an entity that has supposedly been lost, an entity that not a soul in Germany has ever seen in his life" — their freedom.

Friedrich Nietzsche: "Goethe is the last German before whom I feel reverence."

AR I greatly enjoyed Safranski's biographies of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.

2017 December 17


Jan-Werner Müller

Seven theses:

1 Populism is neither the authentic part of modern democratic politics nor a kind of pathology caused by irrational citizens. It is the permanent shadow of representative politics.

2 Not everyone who criticizes elites is a populist. In addition to being anti-elitist, populists are anti-pluralist. They claim that they and they alone represent the people.

3 Populists can represent the common good as willed by the people. But what matters for populists is a symbolic representation of the real people from which they then deduce the correct policy.

4 While populists often call for referenda, such exercises are not about initiating open democratic debates. Populists simply wish to be confirmed in what they have already determined the real will be the people to be.

5 Populists can govern in line with their commitment to the idea that only they represent the people. They will engage in occupying the state, mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of a critical civil society.

6 Populists are a real danger to democracy. But that does not mean one should not engage them in political debate. Talking with populists is not the same as talking like populists.

7 Populism is not a corrective to liberal democracy in the sense of bringing politics closer to the people or reasserting popular sovereignty. But it can be useful in showing that parts of the population are underrepresented.

2017 December 16


Joy Connolly

As a professor, I believe academics should think afresh about how we train our graduate students. Doctoral study should not be aimed purely at creating academics. Ours is a connected globe, and we need to reform doctoral education with this in mind.

Tests show that college students leave college unready for decent jobs. But humans are not things. The role of doctoral study is to equip academically very smart students to be many things, potentially, over the course of their lives.

Professors are decathletes of the mind. A marketing professional would describe them as expert speakers, media design technicians, project managers, and more. We design and run research projects, run budgets, hire staff, build networks, and stump for funding.

Faculty life requires many more practical skills than the title Doctor of Philosophy suggests. We must be more honest about this. We need our best and brightest to make their knowledge useful to the world and to society.

The Universe

Ethan Siegel

The universe is made of matter and not antimatter, even though the laws of nature appear symmetric between the two. It seems to have about five times as much dark matter as all the normal matter we see. And we need dark energy to add up to more than all the rest combined. Three puzzles — the neutrino might explain them all.

The standard model of particle physics has six flavors of quarks and leptons, their antiparticles, the gauge bosons, and the Higgs, but leaves the mystery of why the particle masses have the values they do. The standard model of cosmology has an inflationary big bang, matter and not antimatter, and a history of structure formation that leads to the modern universe, but leaves the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Neutrino oscillations — where neutrinos flip between flavors as they fly through space — imply that neutrinos have a small mass. We see neutrinos with left spin and anti-neutrinos with right spin. A symmetry would give an equal balance of left and right spins. The asymmetry suggests that neutrinos are not normal Dirac fermions but Majorana fermions, which are their own antiparticles.

Normal left and right neutrinos might both have a mass of around 100 GeV. A heavy particle could break the symmetry to give a right neutrino with a huge mass of around 10^15 GeV and a left neutrino with a tiny mass of around 0.01 eV. The huge-mass neutrinos could be the cold dark matter candidates known as Wimpzillas. The tiny-mass neutrinos could be the ones we detect. More:

The vacuum energy of the universe suggests a cosmological constant of around (10^19 GeV)^4, which is too big by about 120 orders of magnitude. But if you replace 10^19 GeV with the neutrino mass of 0.01 eV, you get a number that matches nicely. This is suggestive.

The broken symmetry gives more matter than antimatter in the universe. Mixed-state neutrinos can create more leptons than anti-leptons in the neutrino sector, giving rise to a cosmic asymmetry.

Neutrinoless double beta decay would tell us that neutrinos have Majorana properties. Such decay, if it exists, has a very long lifetime, but future experiments should be able to measure it.


Katia Moskvitch

In the standard model, matter and antimatter particles carry opposite electrical charge. When matter and antimatter particles collide, they annihilate in a flash of radiation. The big bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But a small fraction of the original matter survived to form the known universe.

Matter and antimatter might decay differently. This would violate charge-parity (CP) symmetry, which conserves the laws of physics if matter particles swap with their antiparticles (charge) in mirror reflection (parity). Many physicists think CP is violated in the neutrino sector — explaining why we are made of matter.

2017 December 15

Net Neutrality

Nick Frisch

To taste a future without net neutrality, try browsing the web in Beijing. Filtered by the Great Firewall of China, some sites load with aching slowness, or not at all, and content vanishes without warning or explanation. Most Chinese netizens simply gravitate to the Chinese counterparts of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which come with heavy government surveillance and censorship.

Markets vs Democracy

Robert Kuttner

Democracy and capitalism seem increasingly incompatible. Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security. Wealth has crowded out citizenship, producing extreme inequality and instability.

The great prophet of this development was Karl Polanyi, who saw that market society could only exist because of deliberate government action defining property rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. Today, we see a push for deregulated trade and the dismantling of labor market safeguards to increase profits for multinational corporations.

Polanyi was born in 1886 in Vienna to an illustrious Jewish family. In 1904, he began studies at the University of Budapest. After WW1, he became an economics journalist. He was a left-wing social democrat and a lifelong skeptic of the possibility that a capitalist society would ever tolerate a hybrid economic system.

Living in Red Vienna, Polanyi saw that an island of municipal socialism could not survive larger market turbulence and rising fascism. In 1933, he moved to London and found work sponsored by Oxford University. There he watched history demonstrate that an unrestrained free market leads to democratic breakdown.

After WW2, Polanyi worked in America. He showed that the free market is no natural condition and that democracy cannot survive an excessively free market. Today he would say Brexit and Trump show capitalism has won and democracy has lost.

Kepler-90 system
Kepler-90 system



Democrat defeats tainted
candidate backed by Trump
for Alabama Senator seat.


Rebels defy May government
to force meaningful vote on
Brexit deal before too late.

In my 1996 novel LIFEBALL
I mooted laser battlestations
on the N and S poles of the
Moon to fire off at
visiting aliens.

Hübsch schon, GroKo schwer



ANN Helps NASA Find Planet


The NASA Kepler Space Telescope has discovered an eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2545 light years from Earth. Kepler-90i, a hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days, was found using machine learning from Google.

A Google artificial neural network (ANN) sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90. About 30% larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature exceeds 700 K, like the hot side of Mercury. The outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits as far from Kepler-90 as Earth does from the Sun.

The Kepler dataset consists of 35 000 possible planetary signals. After gazing at one patch of space for 4 years, Kepler now switches its field of view every 80 days.

2017 December 14

Sexual Misconduct

Wesley Yang

We all know men who try to seduce a lot of women and often enough succeed. In the past, we accepted them as part of the normal order of things. No one we knew disapproved of premarital sex, homosexuality, or any private activity between consenting adults.

Whatever lies ahead of us, new rules couched in the language of safety and respect will regulate us. You will have to seek verbal consent before you kiss a woman or touch her in a sensitive place, or anywhere. Anyone can adapt to this new rule.

There has never been a good defense of sleeping with interns or junior employees. Such eroticism sours everything it touches and creates a poisonous dynamic for all workers. The logical outcome is adoption of affirmative consent as the norm governing relations between the sexes.

Sex is an intractable conundrum rather than a solvable problem. There may be no good way to render safe and tractable the will to domination and subordination that feminists see as bound up in sexual desire. Nothing is so dangerous as power that is not acknowledged.

2017 December 13

Russia vs America

Julia Ioffe

United States intelligence officers agree that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Russian hackers breached the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They leaked the data they found, they probed the voting infrastructure of various US states, and they quietly posted divisive content on Facebook. Their aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to sow dissension, and to show that democracy in America is at least as corrupt as in Russia.

In October 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were confident that the Russian government had directed the compromises of emails from US political organizations with the aim of interfering with the US election process.

At the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy, Russian president Vladimir Putin explained his motivation. Two decades earlier, the world was ideologically and economically split, and its security was assured by the strategic balance of two superpowers. But a unipolar world dominated only by America had nothing to do with democracy. The new order was both unacceptable and ineffective. The time had come to rethink the entire architecture of global security.

Putin has spent the decade since that speech making sure that the United States can never again maneuver unilaterally without encountering friction. He evidently believes that in their attempts to promote democracy, Americans are spreading chaos.

The victory of Donald Trump seemed to be a great coup for Putin. But it left us all in danger.

2017 December 12

First Contact?

The Times

In Arthur C. Clarke's 1973 science fiction classic Rendezvous with Rama, astronomers detect a cylindrical interstellar object entering the solar system. At first they think is an asteroid, but then they find it is an alien spacecraft.

Science fact, 2017: Astronomers thought it was a comet or an asteroid from within the solar system. But after studying its orbit and discovering its long, cylindrical shape, they find it is neither and has come from interstellar space.

Oumuamua was discovered by a team at the University of Hawaii in October. It seems to have a cylindrical form, hundreds of meters long and perhaps tens in diameter, that has never been seen in space before.

Its speed — up to 90 km/s — suggests that it will continue its voyage back into interstellar space. Six weeks of study shows it is not made of ice and is dark red in color. SETI researchers will seek to detect evidence of alien technology in its EM emissions.

Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb: "If this object is natural in origin, there should be many more like it in the solar system .. and even if most of them are natural, perhaps one of them will be found to be of artificial origin, some space device or junk from an alien civilization."

NASA Moon Base

New Scientist

President Trump has directed NASA to aim for the Moon: "This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint. We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."

US vice president Mike Pence said a strategic military presence on the Moon will "enhance our national security and our capacity to provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America."

2017 December 11

Descrying the Divine

German Sadulajev

Where landscapes are untapped and unmanageable, where survival and well-being are irrational factors, state power becomes a sanctuary. This applied everywhere in the ancient world and still applies today in Russia, with its huge, poorly developed, sparsely and unevenly populated space. Above all, the king must be able to communicate with those powers that the human being cannot control or grasp rationally. He has to communicate with the divine. Putin is our president.

AR The One.

Germany — Coalition Options

Constanze Stelzenmüller

German chancellor Angela Merkel spent two months mulling a potential government coalition — then the Free Democrats walked out. The Social Democrats decided to enter talks — then SPD leader Martin Schulz said he wants a United States of Europe by 2025. Talks could continue well into 2018.

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said last week that Europeans will have to stand up to the Trump administration and accept that America sees Europe as a competitor. He floated a new detente with Russia but ignored a promised increase in German defense spending. The world is waiting.

AR Die Mühlen der Demokratie mahlen langsam aber gründlich.

Defending the Faith

Harriet Sherwood

Prince Charles is the heir apparent while the Queen remains the UK sovereign. His coronation is likely to raise questions about institutional links between church, monarchy, and parliament. The monarch is crowned and anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey.

One in four countries worldwide had a state religion in 2011. Of those, only the UK and Iran have religious leaders in their legislatures by right. In the UK, 26 Church of England bishops have reserved seats in the House of Lords. The UK monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith.

From a new report by the National Secular Society: "The voices of religious privilege are loud and their vested interests are strong. But .. if Britain is to become a modern state rather than one in which parliament continues to cleave to its medieval past, then the separation of church and state needs to be part of the solution."

AR Rebrand Britain as the United Sovereign Secular Republic.

Brexit — Second Referendum

Camilla Cavendish

Conservatives bent on delivering what they think is the "will of the people" are deluded if they expect any thanks. Brexit is a Tory project and most voters now think the talks are going badly. The Conservative reputation will be hard to win back.

Few experts believe that a trade agreement can be completed in two years. Voters will likely feel as if they are still in the EU by the next election. To avoid annihilation, the Tories should try to get a good deal and then put it to a public vote.

Geraint Davies

A new poll finds that more than half of voters support a referendum on the EU exit package. The government is in disarray and disagrees on most issues related to Brexit. The only way to resolve this is to put the decision back to the people.

Today I publish a bill that aims to give voters the final say on Brexit. The government would let the people choose between its negotiated deal and the option of reversing article 50 and remaining in the EU. This honours the will of the people.

AR Do it.

2017 December 10

Scientific Understanding

Martin Rees

I think science will hit the buffers at some point. The question of how far science can go partly depends on how we define complexity. Atoms and astronomical phenomena can be quite basic, but everything in between gets tricky.

Most complex of all are living things. Everything is made of atoms, and obeys the laws of quantum physics. But even if those equations could be solved for immense aggregates of atoms, living systems manifest emergent properties that are best understood in terms of new concepts.

We can expect huge advances on the small, the large, and the complex. But efforts to understand complex systems, such as our own brains, might well hit limits. And physicists might never understand the bedrock nature of space and time because the mathematics is just too hard.

Human abstract thinking has led to culture and science. But this activity will probably be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the post-human era. A full understanding of physical reality need not be within our grasp.


Typoform/Nobel Media
The four forces of nature, the particles, and the phenomena they explain. The atomic and nuclear interactions are unified
in the standard model using quantum field theory. Gravity is described by general relativity.
But QFT and GR are incompatible without a quantum theory of gravity.

Ode to Joy
Ode to Joy

"We must build a kind of
United States of Europe"
Winston Churchill

"Trump is a chump .. he is
ignorant and thinks the world
started the day he was elected,
and so he is easily gamed."
Thomas L. Friedman

Person of the Year


Quantum Gravity

Ethan Siegel

Perimeter Institute, 2017-10-04: Erik Verlinde suggests that gravity emerges from entropy. There are well known relationships between thermodynamics and GR. The laws of thermodynamics emerge from statistical mechanics, and perhaps gravity emerges similarly.

Verlinde uses ideas from string theory to relate quantum information theory and the emergence of gravity and spacetime. The basic idea is that fundamental qubits possess temperature and entropy, and that everything else about gravitation can be derived from that.

He says we may need to work with qubits to understand gravity. Entropy is the total number of bits of information in a system, or qubits in a quantum world. QFT describes how the surface area of a black hole event horizon measured in qubits is proportional to its entropy.

He says entangled qubits may explain dark matter. Entanglement increases as the universe expands. The entropy of the universe from photons is about 10^90 bits. From the size of the cosmological horizon, he says it should be 10^120 bits. This is all very suspect.

2017 December 9

Big Old Black Hole

Joshua Sokol

The discovery of a supermassive black hole in the early universe is helping us resolve big questions. The black hole dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang (My ABB). Reionization, the process that defogged the universe, was about half complete at that time. The black hole already weighed 780 million solar masses.

Black holes grow when cosmic matter falls into them, generating light and heat. At some point, the radiation emitted by material falling in carries out so much momentum that it blocks new stuff from falling in, creating a speed limit for black hole growth called the Eddington rate. Extrapolating back at the Eddington rate, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to big baby black holes with thousands of solar masses.

Even earlier, when protons and electrons first formed hydrogen atoms, the neutral atoms absorbed UV light from the first stars. In time, young stars or quasars emitted enough light to reionize these atoms and dissipate the cosmic fog. Reionization was largely complete by around 1 Gy ABB.

The gas around the newly discovered quasar is about half neutral, half ionized. So there, at least, reionization was only half done. We could use more data.

2017 December 8

United States of Europe

Martin Schulz

I want a new constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe — a Europe that is no threat to its member states, but a beneficial addition.

A convention will draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member states. Any state that does not ratify the treaty will automatically leave the EU.

We need not a European austerity diktat but investments in a eurozone budget. We need a European finance minister who curbs the race to the bottom in tax policy and ends tax avoidance. We need a European framework for a minimum wage that ends wage dumping.

We have not yet answered the question what social democracy stands for in the 21st century.

"The Federated Republic of Europe — the United States of Europe — that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is to remain split into national groups, then imperialism will recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic of Europe can give peace to the world."
Leon Trotsky

Brexit — Sufficient Progress

Financial Times

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker met in Brussels early today to sign a 15-page progress report that will let EU negotiators recommend opening a second phase of talks on post-Brexit relations.

The Deal

Citizen rights: EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU will be able to claim permanent residency status through transparent, smooth and streamlined procedures. Primacy of the ECJ interpretation of EU citizen rights laws will continue indefinitely.

Irish border: A fallback provision to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland ensures full alignment with the EU single market and customs union. The EU has accepted UK assurances and talks can move on.

Divorce settlement: The UK will pay into the EU budgets for 2019 and 2020 as if it had remained in the bloc. It will also contribute its share of the financing for any EU liabilities incurred before the end of 2020. The UK can expect a net bill of €40—45 billion.

2017 December 7

Trump — Courage

Alan Posener

For decades, the international community has tacitly acknowledged that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. Now US President Donald Trump wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The previous refusal of US administrations to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has brought peace no closer. Experts warn that the Muslim world will never accept this and Muslim leaders warn that it will end the peace process. What peace process?

Trump has made it clear that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem is not a preliminary decision regarding the final status of the city and the future borders between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Israel will never renounce Jerusalem as its capital. The Arab campaign against Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state is only part of the Arab struggle against the reality of Israel. Anyone who does not even acknowledge its existence has no right to protest against Jerusalem as its capital.

Trump is right: Twenty years of denial have not brought peace closer. Time to move on.

Brexit — Lessons

Philip Stephens

For the UK, Brexit talks have been a humiliating rendezvous with reality. Rule Britannia platitudes fizzled on contact with the facts of life:

1 A fundamental asymmetry unbalances the negotiation. The cost of failure is proportionately much higher for the UK than for the EU27.

2 Westminster politicians have not grasped that the EU is a union built on laws. A bespoke deal translates into German as cherry picking.

3 The sovereign right to wave goodbye to a morass of regulatory agencies is the sovereignty of the person shipwrecked on a desert island.

4 Access to the single market for a transitional period after departure will oblige the UK to continue to respect all the rules.

5 The only framework on offer for a future trade deal will be one that complies with the principle that benefits are restricted to members.

Britain decided unilaterally to leave the EU. The EU27 will now decide what agreement it is prepared to make with a third country.

AR Eat dirt, Brexit blowhards.

Soyuz rocket

A Russian Soyuz/Fregat launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome failed last week.
Deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin is coming under criticism.

AlphaGo Zero plays superhuman
chess after teaching itself from
scratch, starting from random
play, given only the game
rules, in 24 hours.



Buy now for Xmas



2017 December 6


Donald Trump

AR Islamist crazies will see this as a declaration of war.

Brexit — Outline Betrayal

Nick Clegg

The capitulation of the Brexiteers is striking. They are displaying all the iron discipline of a sect that believes it is tantalisingly close to reaching its holy grail. For them, all that matters is to drag the country across the legal finishing line in March 2019. Then there is no turning back from Brexit.

To reach their promised land, the Brexiteers in Westminster intend to deliver to the UK parliament a mere "Heads of Agreement" governing the future relations between the UK and the EU. The details of that future relationship will be left to further negotiations. The Brexiteers calculate that an outline deal, bereft of the invidious content that a proper agreement would include, is the ideal document to put to parliament.

But this is not what the British people were promised. The government said parliament will be able to vote on both the terms of our departure and the terms of our future interaction with the EU. It would be a betrayal if MPs were fobbed off with the outline of an agreement shorn of all detail.

Brexit — Crisis Warning

Daily Mail

Brexit Secretary David Davis says Brexit will be a change comparable with the 2008 financial crisis.

Called before the Brexit select committee where he said Whitehall had carried out no Brexit impact assessments, Davis said of Brexit: "It will have an effect. The assessment of that effect is not as straightforward as people imagine. I'm not a fan of economic models because they have all proven wrong. When you have a paradigm change — as happened in 2008 with the financial crisis — all the models were wrong."

The 2008 financial crisis cost the UK economy up to £7.4 trillion and led to a decade of austerity.

AR Abandon this hideous farce before HMS Britannia sinks.

2017 December 5

The Irish Question

Fintan O'Toole

Ireland is proving to be in a much stronger political position than Britain. The UK is being forced to accept what it claimed to be unacceptable, not because Ireland has suddenly become a global superpower but because it has the unflinching support of EU member states, the European parliament, and the EU negotiating team. There might be a lesson in there somewhere for a country facing a future without the allies it has long taken for granted.

Homo Sapiens

Natalie Angier

The human brain is a pudding of some 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between them, packed into a space of about 1.5 liters. Language and cooperation likely worked together to drive the evolutionary growth of our brains.

Edward O. Wilson argues that Homo sapiens is a species that ranks as eusocial, like bees, ants, and so on. We cooperate and display group loyalty, to the point where the group essentially operates as a unit of evolutionary selection.

Wilson has waged a public battle against the importance of inclusive fitness, which researchers have long cited to explain such behaviors as altruism, homosexuality, even suicide. Wilson says the math is wrong.

2017 December 4

Brexit — No Deal on Trade Talks

BBC News

UK prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker say progress has been made but differences remain.

Juncker: "It was not possible to reach complete agreement today."

Apparently the UK is prepared to accept that Northern Ireland may remain in the EU customs union and single market in all but name. But the DUP will not back any agreement that threatens the territorial integrity of the UK. And Scottish, Welsh, and London leaders want an offer of similar exceptional status after Brexit.


John Lukacs

Surrounded by books has been a main circumstance of my long life. Now 93, I have a library of perhaps 18,000 books in my house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in a home that housed many books.

After about 1500 a new age began — the Age of Books. A golden age followed. Today, few people know that the modern age, the Age of Books, is now passing.

The modern age brought progress and a transition from aristocracies to democracies. Public opinion had a heyday in most of Europe and in America corresponding to the heyday of the Age of Books. The health of democracies depended on the existence of educated readers.

As a boy, I had an appetite for history and literature. I saw that history was more of an art than a science and, later, that science was but a part of history. I survived the National Socialist and then the Russian conquest of Hungary in 1944 and 1945, and fled my native country illegally in 1946.

I landed in New York penniless and forlorn, and became an assistant lecturer in history at Columbia University. There I was surprised at how many American students hardly read books at all.

Over roughly 50 years, I wrote and had many books published. Many were published in multiple editions, translated and published around the world. My own library grew, and we added a large hexagonal library to our house. Perhaps this was my most precious achievement.

Today, the custom of reading and the numbers of readers have declined. The Age of Books died with television and the Internet.

2017 December 3


Paul Mason

Neoliberalism is broken. The global economic system that drove growth and technological progress from 1989 to 2008 led to financial catastrophe. Now many people see the elites getting richer and know their kids will be poorer.

An alliance of the elite and the mob is emerging in which xenophobia, violent misogyny, and racism support political power. The far right and the conservative parties are converging around national neoliberalism. It will not work.

We must stop nudging and forcing market behavior into the lives of people  and start letting them express their human and collaborative impulse. We need a new economic model with a narrative of hope and a social movement to fight for it.

In the UK, Labour developed a narrative beyond politics. We need to go further to gain  cultural hegemony in the wider society. We must offer a clear economic alternative to neoliberalism:

End austerity. Regulate the labor market to promote the interests of workers. Build new homes for young people on a massive scale. Use state intervention to promote an innovative, high wage private sector. Modernize and extend the welfare state. Build a utopia based on work, with state provision of cheap or free basic goods and services. End the tyranny of trade deals over social justice.

We need a new concept of citizenship in Europe. It is hard to defend migration using the EU concept of citizenship as primarily economic. The constitution of Europe is framed around an economic system that no longer works.

Neoliberalism is the disenchantment of politics by economics. Right wing populism is the re-enchantment of politics by nationalism, racism, nostalgia, and misogyny. Radical social democracy must re-enchant politics by social justice and a more fully human concept of citizenship.

AR Minus the red balls, there is a lot of truth in this analysis.

2017 December 2

Math and Physics

Kevin Hartnett

Minhyong Kim has found a new way of looking for patterns in the world of rational numbers. His vision is based in physics — rational solutions are like light rays.

Rational solutions to equations are like puzzle pieces falling perfectly into place. They are the subject of many of the most famous conjectures in mathematics. We often wish to find rational numbers that solve Diophantine equations — polynomial equations with integer coefficients.

The more symmetric an object is, the easier it is to study. We would like to study Diophantine equations in a setting with more symmetry than the one where the problem naturally occurs. Then we can harness the newly relevant symmetries to track down the rational points we seek.

Numbers that have particular kinds of symmetry relationships form groups. We use the properties of a group to understand all the numbers it contains. But the set of rational solutions to an equation has no symmetry and forms no group.

A space is any set of points that has geometric or topological structure. In general relativity, we think of each spacetime configuration as a point in a space of all spacetime configurations. Gauge theory has to do with fields that we layer on top of physical space to describe how forces change as you move through space.

Consider a beam of light. We imagine the light moving through a higher-dimensional space of fields. In this space, light follows the path that minimizes the amount of time required to go from A to B.

These larger spaces of spaces that come up in physics feature additional symmetries that are not present in any of the spaces they represent. These symmetries draw attention to specific points, such as the time-minimizing path for light. Constructed in another way in another context, such symmetries might emphasize other kinds of points — like the points corresponding to rational solutions to equations.

Number theory has something like spacetime, and it also offers a way of drawing paths and constructing a space of all possible paths. From this basic correspondence, Kim is working out a scheme in which the problem of finding the trajectory of light and that of finding rational solutions to Diophantine equations are two facets of the same problem — as he explained last week in Heidelberg, Germany.

AR Some 27 years ago in Heidelberg, I published a pamphlet listing advanced math and physics texts and emphasizing the amazingly fruitful interaction of math and physics over recent centuries.

2017 December 1

Global Britain

Martin Wolf

Six impossible things before breakfast:

1 The British system of free trade made Britain and the world richer. The EU system that has
    replaced it has constrained economic growth.
The volume of world trade is twice as high, relative to global output, now as at its peak before WW1. Global output per head rose at 1.3% a year between 1870 and 1914, well below the 1.9% achieved between 1980 and 2008.

2 The UK can have its cake on access to EU markets and still eat it. The EU will accept new UK
    regulations after Brexit as equivalent to its own.
The cake would either nullify UK regulatory freedom or subvert EU regulations. The EU would surely reject UK changes.

3 WTO members are panting for UK leadership.
Donald Trump is a protectionist and the WTO has made no big trade deal since 2001.

4 The UK must soon leave the single market and customs union in order to liberalise world trade.
This ignores the costs of losing favourable access to the single market and it reflects an entirely unjustifiable belief in UK influence on global trade policy.

5 The government must instruct UK customs to talk to member state customs agencies and work
    on customs cooperation with the EU27.
The UK has no means to break EU27 solidarity.

6 The UK should not let itself be bound by the EU negotiating mandate.
The EU holds the cards and it knows it.

Do Brextremists really believe all six?

The Special Relationship

Mary Dejevsky

The British obsession about its special relationship with America blew up the storm over Donald Trump's latest tweets.

Furious Brits demanded once again that the US state visit should be expunged from the diary. If it were not for the special relationship, the UK prime minister might not have felt the need to condemn the US president in a public utterance. But with a state visit on the cards she had little choice.

France and Germany have more freedom in their US relations without a special relationship. Angela Merkel talked about defending European values on her visit to see the new president. Emmanuel Macron entertained Vladimir Putin at Versailles and hosted the Trumps at the Bastille Day parade.

A special relationship is a lopsided arrangement that allows the UK to fantasize about global power and influence.

Six Minutes in May

James Naughtie

Nicholas Shakespeare brings tension to an old story by understanding its human drama. His account of the Norway Debate in May 1940 is a bravura performance, painting a vivid backdrop that explains the meetings that made Churchill prime minister two days later.

The six minutes of the title refer to the length of the parliamentary division that split the Tories and pushed Chamberlain to the brink. Shakespeare brings the story to life. The story of Churchill's accession to power on the day that Hitler's armies entered the Low Countries and set course for France has never been infused with so much humanity.

Shakespeare's piercing account of the disastrous Norway campaign that opens the book lays bare Churchill's failings and makes all the more engrossing the political chaos from which he finally emerged smiling.

AR I am currently reading the book.


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